In December 2010, when Cardinal Justin Rigali announced the formation and membership of a Blue Ribbon Commission to chart the future course of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it was charged with examining current programs with the objective of defining a strategic plan that would assure a sustainable Catholic education system into the future.
At the time, the Cardinal expressed the hope it could complete its work by the fall, to which Commission Chairman John (Jack) Quindlen added, “if possible.”
The commission held its first meeting Jan. 5, 2011 and now on Jan. 6, 2012, its final report, as presented to Archbishop Chaput, Cardinal Rigali’s successor, will be made public.
There were 17 members appointed to the commission including four priests (one resigned for health reasons) four Sisters, eight laymen and one laywoman. All were highly regarded in their respective fields and well acquainted with Catholic education.
Quindlen himself is a former senior vice president, chief financial officer and member of the Office of the Chairman of E.I. DuPont. He was chairman of the building committees of Bishop Shanahan and Pope John Paul II High Schools and served on the finance councils of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Wilmington Diocese. More to the point, he is a product of West Catholic High School for Boys and also Most Blessed Sacrament School when it had about 3,000 students, but closed when most West Philadelphia Catholics in the area moved to the suburbs.
“We are pretty much on the schedule we set out,” Quindlen said. He explained there were formal meetings at least monthly and telephone calls and e-mails in between as well as meetings of a number of subgroups.
“We were dealing with the future and how to sustain Catholic education, but I have to say we had to deal with where we are now,” he said. In the recommendations, “unfortunately there is going to be some school consolidation; they are designed to get us to a better critical mass.”
Quindlen noted the idea wasn’t to have bigger class sizes, it was to create larger schools that could have such almost necessities as a librarian and language arts teacher. Also, when the schools get too small the tuition gets higher and is a drain on the parish and the parents.
In the commission studies they also looked at such things as demographics and baptisms within a given area as a way to predict future trends and determine which schools are sustainable. The commission considered issues such as academic excellence and Catholic identity as very important.
They also examined new governance processes which might be needed without destroying the local nature of the schools.
“We are not closing schools, we are closing buildings,” Quindlen said. “I think in a year or two we will see the whole Archdiocese is stronger for this.”
H. Edward Hanway, another member of the commission, is chairman emeritus and CEO of CIGNA Corp., a member of the board of trustees at Loyola College in Baltimore and Drexel Neumann Academy. His own schooling was at Nativity B.V.M. in Media and Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Delaware County.
“Our mission was clear,” he said. “We needed to develop a strategy to sustain and strengthen the Catholic schools so that they would be affordable and accessible to Catholics that desired that type of education. We had a very intense 12 months; it was an extraordinarily devoted group.”
The commission was given access to any information they needed, and there were open and frank discussions with the Archdiocese on the state of education in the schools and in religious education programs, Hanway said. The commission also consulted with outside groups that have an interest in Catholic education, including BLOCS and the Connelly Foundation.
Hanway feels the final report will create a system that can grow again.
“It is a good blueprint for the future, and it will create a strong foundation on what we can build upon,” he said.
In the end, both Quindlen and Hanway are pleased with the results of their effort.
“I’m very satisfied,” Quindlen said. “We had extremely good participation and excellent support from the Archdiocese and the Archbishop.”