Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Visiting our Catholic schools is one of my favorite things to do as I travel around the diocese. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet staff and students and hear about the good work they’re doing in the classroom.
For me, these visits also reinforce something very important, something I first began to realize as a Catholic school student myself and later came to appreciate as a pastor and bishop: Catholic schools are unmatched in providing a top-notch education grounded in Gospel values, community and service to others.
They are — and have always been — essential to the church’s evangelizing mission, building up the kingdom of God in our diocese and beyond.
As a bishop, one of my primary responsibilities is to teach the faith. Catholic schools — in collaboration with parents and families — play an essential role in this endeavor.
Many Catholic schools, however, face significant challenges because of rising costs and diminished enrollments that threaten their long-term affordability and sustainability. I know that Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Cloud are not immune to these challenges, and one of my priorities as your bishop is to take steps that strengthen Catholic education and how it is delivered in our diocese.
With this goal in mind, I have convened a steering committee to design a single Catholic school system for the St. Cloud metro area and surrounding communities. This system would build on the collaboration and resource-sharing already happening among our schools. And, it would ensure that families — now and for generations to come — have access to a stable Catholic education for their children from pre-K through high school.
Schools invited to participate
All Saints Academy (St. Cloud, St. Joseph)
Cathedral (St. Cloud)
Holy Cross (Pearl Lake)
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (St. Cloud)
St. Francis Xavier (Sartell)
St. Katharine Drexel (St. Cloud)
St. Mary Help of Christians (St. Augusta)
St. Wendelin (Luxemburg)
Annunciation, Mayhew Lake
Christ Church Newman Center, St. Cloud
Holy Cross, Pearl Lake
Holy Spirit, St. Cloud
Immaculate Conception, Rice
Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rockville
Sacred Heart, Sauk Rapids
St. Anthony, St. Cloud
St. Augustine, St. Cloud
St. Francis Xavier, Sartell
St. John Cantius, St. Cloud
St. Joseph, Waite Park
St. Joseph, St. Joseph
St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud
St. Mary, Help of Christians, St. Augusta
St. Michael, St. Cloud
St. Paul, St. Cloud
St. Peter, St. Cloud
St. Stephen, St. Stephen
St. Wendelin, Luxemburg
The benefits of a strong Catholic school system are not limited to families with children currently enrolled in them and the parishes with school buildings on their property. The entire church benefits. Catholic education strengthens every parish in our diocese by forming the next generation of leaders for our world and our church. In many ways, the future vitality of our church is linked directly to the health and effectiveness of our Catholic schools.
The schools I am inviting to form the new system are: All Saints Academy (St. Cloud, St. Joseph), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (St. Cloud), St. Katharine Drexel (St. Cloud), Cathedral (St. Cloud), St. Francis Xavier (Sartell), St. Mary, Help of Christians (St. Augusta), St. Wendelin (Luxemburg) and Holy Cross (Pearl Lake). We look forward to working collaboratively with these schools and their parish communities throughout the process.
Steering committee members
• Deacon Mark Barder, Diocesan director of planning and the permanent diaconate
• David Borgert, Member of St. Michael Parish, St. Cloud; former Catholic school parent
• Erin Hatlestad, Principal, St. Katharine Drexel School; parent of three children attending Catholic school
• Tom Janson, Attorney for St. Cloud Diocese; former Catholic school parent
• William Kain, Former Catholic school parent and school board member
• Father Tom Knoblach, Pastor of St. Anthony, Holy Spirit and St. John Cantius parishes in St. Cloud
• Jane Marrin, Chancellor of St. Cloud Diocese; former Catholic school parent
• Michael Mullin, Member of St. Peter Parish, St. Cloud; president of Cathedral School, St. Cloud
• Joe Towalski, Diocesan director of communications; Catholic school parent
• Father Ron Weyrens, Pastor of the parishes of St. Wendelin, Luxemburg; Holy Cross, Pearl Lake; and Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Rockville
The 12-person steering committee includes two pastors with Catholic schools, a Catholic school president and principal, our diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, and current and former Catholic school parents (see accompanying box for the complete list of committee members). During the next several months, the committee will study options for the various components that would comprise a new system, including governance, curriculum and finances. Committee members also will consult with others in the wider community as needed.
Much of the steering committee’s work is being guided by the landmark document “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools.” This document was put together by the schools of education at Boston College and Loyola University in Chicago in cooperation with the National Catholic Educational Association. The document identifies characteristics that are present in effective Catholic schools and provides performance benchmarks in key areas such as Catholic mission and identity, governance and leadership, academic excellence and operational vitality.
I have asked the committee to submit a draft plan to me by December 2015, with the hope that it could be launched officially in the fall of 2017.
Understandably, there will be questions about the process and impact of creating a new school system. How will it affect current school buildings and staffing? How will it affect parishes financially?
The honest answer to these questions right now is that it’s too early to know. A working group of the steering committee is studying possible financial structures for the new system. I assure you that closing school buildings is not the goal of this process. The goal is to fill classrooms and revitalize Catholic education in light of the challenges we face today and into the future.
Representatives from the steering committee will provide regular updates about the process to pastors, principals and parish representatives. The Visitor newspaper and the diocesan website (www. stclouddiocese.org) also will include updates as more information becomes available. We invite you to submit your questions and comments to a specially designated email address: CatholicSchoolsSC@gmail.com.
I am confident about the process we are undertaking. Our diocese has a long history, dating back some four decades, of collaborations and consolidations that have resulted in stronger Catholic schools. All Saints Academy, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Katharine Drexel are among these successes. I also participated as a pastor in the creation of a new Catholic school system in my home diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., that has helped to ensure the future of Catholic education in that area. My hope is that this process would serve as a model for other Catholic schools in the diocese seeking to strengthen the ministry they provide.
If you haven’t visited one of our Catholic schools for some time, I would encourage you to schedule a visit and talk with the principal or another staff member about the ministry being done there. I suspect you will be convinced, like I am, that Catholic schools are an integral part of the mission of the church and essential for evangelizing our culture today and into the future.
I ask for your prayers as we begin this important work together.
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of St. Cloud