One of the best moments in the recent life of our Church happened on Friday, February 23, as students at West Catholic, Conwell-Egan, Bonner-Prendie and St. Hubert’s learned that their high schools, originally slated to close, would remain open.
I made the judgment to keep these financially challenged high schools open just a few hours before the press conference announcing the final decision. That little “miracle” happened because a great many people – from the Blue Ribbon Commission, the Office of Catholic Education, the individual school communities and Philadelphia’s business and philanthropic leadership worked heroically to make it so. They raised new money and created the seeds of a new education foundation to assist our archdiocesan high schools, and eventually all our archdiocesan schools.
The Blue Ribbon Commission’s work, the subsequent appeals process and the effort to save the four high schools placed very heavy demands on everyone involved. We owe a big debt of thanks to Jack Quindlen, Ed Hanway, Eleanor Dezzi, Jerry Davis, Frank Farnesi and other members of Blue Ribbon Commission; to Richard McCarron, Mary Rochford and David Magee of the Office of Catholic Education; and to Brian O’Neill, Brian Tierney and other members of the wider community for stepping forward to help.
I especially want to thank the pastors and people of the archdiocese who supported the Commission report and the findings of the appeals process. Some of them did so at great personal cost. No process is perfect. Some persons are always left unsatisfied. In a financially challenged environment as large and complex as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this can’t be avoided. But in the end, the process of examining our schools was just. Our schools will grow stronger because of the new ideas and structures we now begin to test.
And that brings me to a two simple but urgent facts we need to remember in the weeks ahead.
First, after every feel-good moment like the high school news on February 23, many of us would like to relax. But that’s a luxury we can’t afford. Our problems are not yet solved. They’re merely delayed. We’ve been given more time, more talent and more resources to address them, but the problems facing our schools still need a great deal of hard work and creative thinking to be overcome. We need to vigorously increase school enrollments. We need to raise far more money both at the local grassroots and wider business community levels. And we need to stay focused on the effort. If we don’t do all of these things, the failure will be ours to own.
Second, without the passage of opportunity scholarships and greater Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC), all of our school efforts become much more difficult. In fact, many of our schools will face the same financial crisis again in the future. “School choice” in the form of vouchers (i.e., opportunity scholarships), along with more EITC resources, is essential to the survival and thriving of our schools. That means that parents, pastors, and Catholic school teachers, presidents and principals need to contact their state lawmakers – this week and next week and the week after, no matter how many times it takes. They need to press their legislators to support opportunity scholarships and to increase Educational Improvement Tax Credits.
Catholic education in southeast Pennsylvania has a long and fruitful history. Our schools have played a huge role in enriching the life of Philadelphia and its surrounding communities. Now we need to work to restore that great legacy of education.
If we stay focused, raise the resources we need and fight for the passage of opportunity scholarships and more EITC funds, we’ll succeed. If we don’t, we’ll fail and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. The choice is ours.