Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

It's official: the little Catholic school my kids attend, and which we dearly love, is being consolidated with another little Catholic school about two miles down the road.

Obviously, the merger is intended to strengthen both schools and to continue to offer the children a great, orthodox Catholic education, all while remaining as affordable as possible. The practical side of my brain gets that and appreciates it.

Still, it burns going down. It's hard not to identify personally with an institution into which you've poured so much time and heart, even though we know we are not alone. The reasons behind the consolidation are the same situations that are affecting Catholic education across the country.

We've known for a long time that this was coming, since the beginning of the school year really, but I didn't feel like I could talk much about it until it was officially announced by the bishop.

It was hard not to bring my thoughts here, especially since I was a member of the panel to study the feasibility of a successful merger and the consolidation has been a near daily part of my interior life since September.

As with any venture of this kind, it is nearly impossible to satisfy all the parties involved. It didn't help that the early meetings between our school and the neighboring school often turned contentious. It's hard to overcome an us versus them mentality.

Following natural human behavior, the rumor mill started grinding early on.

You had the people who claimed that the diocese was doing this just to seize the money generated by the schools' parent teacher organizations. Not true. The diocese does not get a penny of any money generated by the schools' organizations; it stays with the children.

Then there was the group that went around and around with who "started" the merger talk. It was the pastors, it was a certain principal, it was the smaller school, it was the larger school, it was the mean old bishop. Who cares who started the talks? We're all reading the handwriting on the same wall anyway.

There's also the fatalists who have pronounced the school doomed before it has even begun. They are usually the first ship jumpers, but sometimes they stick around and become like the Debbie Downers of the school. Well, go ahead and try, but don't be surprised if it turns out poorly . . .

And then, having to hear it all, are the teachers. I feel deeply for them since they dedicate everything to our students, and being realistic, half of the teachers from both schools will most likely be out of jobs in a few weeks.

I think a lot of this behavior is natural. My own inclination is to always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. With more of a focus on the preparation for the worst part. Luckily I'm married to a man who focuses more on the hoping part.

All of this is, of course, made more hard to swallow because it means we need to acknowledge that something we love is failing. Despite our very best efforts, it is still failing.

In many ways, it feels like an unanswered prayer. Or rather, flipping that feeling on its head, it feels like the answer is "no" when we so desperately prayed for a "yes."

I know that the ultimate goal of a prayer is to truly ask for discernment about what God is calling us to do, and then, if that answer is not what we hoped for, to have the grace to bear it. And God works all things for good, even though we may need to face a period of trial.

If I can remember that, then I realize that there are things regarding this merger about which I am excited. I know the curriculum is strong and will remain so, and I know that both schools are very faithful, which is a blessing that some Catholic schools do not have.

I realize that my excitement about the new school makes me a stranger in a strange land among the fractured groups at both schools. When you are hell bent on seeing something as a mistake, or at the very least ill-advised, it's hard to deal with the Pollyanna in in your midst.

But for my kids' sake and the for the sake of Catholic education in general, I have to try. Giving up is not an option, especially since these are the last two Catholic schools in this immediate area. If these schools close, that means there are seven parishes' worth of children who have no school attached to their church. That makes me incredibly sad. And determined.

So some prayers through the frenzied consolidation time table of the spring and summer will be greatly appreciated, my friends. It's a long road, but I know it's worth it.

PS: And if you have are lucky enough to have a good parish school, please, please support it!


  1. Aimee, I have been down this road myself. For various reasons we jumped to a different parish that has its own school rather than have the kids attend the merged school, but that's neither here nor there. In some ways it would have been better for us to do the merge. I have also been down the "merge the parish" road even more recently, and there was been a lot of "us versus them." My best suggestion here is that you be part of the solution and just keep reminding people that "there is no THEM anymore. It is only US." Our parish worked & weathered the merger well. Other area parishes that merged were not so fortunate. Yes, you will lose some gloom & doomers. You might even lose them RIGHT NOW.
    Know that you have my prayers, and if you ever want to vent "off the record"--feel free. I can sympathize.
    Praying that the new, merged school will be a good, Catholic, healthy place for kids to learn. It's too important to risk that over egos and "politics."

  2. I hope things go well during the official transition! There will be growing pains no doubt but hopefully everyone can work for the greater good :)

  3. Oh my- this is a tough road to go down for sure. Your attitude towards the consolidation is spot on though- I'll pray that you stay strong and guided through the transition. Good luck to all.

  4. Wow. It's hard to imagine on so many fronts... but I really like your "just us" mentality. My parish collaborates with other area parishes on some ministries, and it's amazing how much the "local, immediate" communal identity can take precedence over the "one, holy and catholic" larger identity. I'll say an extra prayer for you and the kiddos...

  5. I'm so sorry to read this. I can imagine how hard, sad and frustrating this all is. I worry about our school. I have not heard anything yet, but enrollment is significantly down (by about 25% by my calculations). We have a wealthy base and they keep pulling their kids to put them in secular prep schools. The difference in tuition cost is about $15-20,000 per year and the loss of a Catholic education. Support is dwindling and I see many Debbie Downers. I've stopped conversing with people in the parking lot at pick up because it just becomes contagious and I for one will not fester it.

    I hope your transition is swift and smooth. I hope the parents can ban together to do what is best for the students and make this a wonderful and supported Catholic school environment for the children. I know it's painful. I will pray for the children and the new school and that all works out for the better.

    I like Barb's suggestion of "There is no THEM anymore only US". That's really the heart of it all, isn't it?

  6. In our area, we have a lot of church closings, and people get REALLY upset. My philosophy is that while, yes you can be sad because you're attached to your particular church, if closing it means a greater good for the Church in general, than shouldn't we support that effort? It sounds the same way with these schools - I hope this is the renewed change needed to really rally the community together and build an even stronger school.

  7. I will pray for everyone. We don't send our kids to the Catholic school in our town because it is way outside of affordability for us, but we do our best to support it in other ways, and many of our friends have kids there. I wish our parishes did a better job supporting it, but oh well.


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