An excellent question was asked at a recent parish planning meeting. How can a school with 225 children be struggling? Here is my attempt at a partial answer. The first part of the answer is financial. Mark Lawrence, our former archdiocesan accountant, told me on several occasions that his cohorts in the finance office devised a simple formula for a stable parish school. The parish school has to have over 200 children and annual Sunday offerings of $800,000.00. We qualify in the first part of the equation, but not the second part. Sunday offerings are declining in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis and, without that kind of financial support, traditional parochial schools run into funding deficits just like the ones we have been facing for some years.
However, we also need to remember that we are not operating a traditional parochial school. Our little parish is supporting a regional school of 225 children (Kg. through 8th grade) coming from 20 different parishes in South City and South County. We receive no financial support from those parishes, and little if any, financial support from those school families. Please don’t hear that as a criticism, it is simply a fact of how our school developed over the last ten years. In the case of one parish, the pastor supports his families at a rate of $800.00 per child and so those children attend our school at a cost below that of our own parishioners. The premise of the original question is false because it is based on the model of a traditional parochial school. In a traditional parochial school, the vast majority of school families who send their children live within the boundaries of the parish and possess a different kind of commitment to the success of the parish and the school.
Nonetheless, the second part of the answer is more troubling. While we have a sizable group of parents who are committed to the overall success of the parish and the school – about one third of the parents – but a larger group of parents are disengaged. That kind of disengagement is more likely to happen when you are operating a regional school as we are. People drop off their children and move on. More seriously, many parents don’t realize that we are a Catholic parish with a school, not a school that happens to have a parish attached to it. Sadly, evidence for this can be seen in the fact that less than fifty percent (50%) of our “registered” school parents bring their children to church on Sunday. Praise to those who do so, but as a Pastor it leaves me wondering why so many parents are sending their children to a Catholic school when they don’t make the most important part of their children’s formation in the faith – the holy Mass – part of their lives.
So, this is a partial answer in less than 500 words to a very complex situation that has developed over a decade. Many of our parishioners are unaware of all this and it has taken me two years to figure it out myself. I am exceedingly grateful to those school parents who are partnering with us to find viable solutions to the issues our school faces so that we can sustain quality Catholic education for our invested parish families. Invested parish families are those who attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis and participate in the stewardship of the parish. On a lighter note, Rodger, our maintenance man, recognized the early signs of another problem with the Huhn Center plumbing system before we had a second catastrophic flood this year. He had Bieg Plumbing come out and video the lateral line through the grove only to discover a four-foot section of the clay pipe had recently collapsed. Bob and Rodger consulted with Bieg last Monday morning and the repair is underway at a cost of more than $4,000.00. Thanks to Rodger and Bob.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us,