Philadelphia’s 17 archdiocesan high schools as well as its four schools for special education are officially under new management.

Under a historic agreement in principal signed by Archbishop Charles Chaput and H. Edward Hanway for the Faith in the Future Foundation on Aug. 21, strategic and operational control of the 21 schools passes to the foundation effective Sept. 1.

It is believed to be the first time ever that a diocese has given control of a major part of its schools to an independent and essentially lay board.

Appropriately, the announcement and signing took place at a press briefing held at St. Hubert High School, which was one of the four high schools recommended for closing in the 2011 report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education, but spared by Archbishop Chaput last February.

“Today’s agreement between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Faith in the Future Foundation is unlike any agreement that a diocese has achieved with its lay leadership,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement. “The willingness of lay leaders with a love for Catholic education to step forward is encouraging. The commitment made by the foundation – a commitment to professional excellence in management, guided by a strong and faithful identity, will serve our high schools and schools of special education well.

“We have seen the momentum that the foundation has been able to generate and we are confident that this agreement will lead to an even stronger school system for the children of the Philadelphia region.”

Under the agreement, which initially is for five years,  the Office for Catholic Education (OCE) which previously oversaw the schools, will become a division of the Faith in the Future  Foundation, reporting directly to the foundation’s CEO, an office temporarily filled by Hanway, until a  CEO is hired.

Hanway himself brings excellent credentials to the table; he is a former chairman and CEO of Cigna Corp.

The responsibilities of the OCE remain focused upon curriculum and standards, academic and spiritual development of students, co-curricular and extra-curricular programming and the professional development of teachers.

The presidents and principals of the archdiocesan high schools and the four schools of special education will continue to report to the OCE, and the teachers remain employees of the Archdiocese.

Direct ownership of the schools themselves will remain with the Archdiocese, with the exception of Roman Catholic, Philadelphia’s flagship Catholic high school. The school is conducted by the Archdiocese but the building owned by the Cahill Trust, established under the  will of Roman founder Thomas Cahill, who died in 1878.

While the makeup of the board for the foundation has not yet been set, and will not be announced until the fall, Hanway estimated it will have about 15 members, with the Archbishop appointing only one-third of them.

Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees Catholic education for the Archdiocese, will be one of the board members.

“The independence of the Catholic secondary system, with the schools of special education, was critical to our ability to more fully address the fundraising and enrollment needs of our schools,” Hanway said. “With capacity available to educate an additional 15,000 students we intend to grow.

“This is a ground-breaking approach to educating our children and I am deeply pleased that Archbishop Chaput and archdiocesan leadership were willing to make such a bold decision in reaching this agreement with the foundation. I am confident that the foundation can and will serve as a model for Catholic education across the nation as we infuse and employ an entrepreneurial approach to managing these 21 schools.”

Hanway reported registration for the fall class of freshman is now at 106 percent of earlier projections. Whether that is because of the initial efforts of the Faith in the Future Foundation or the publicity surrounding the near-closing of four high schools might be impossible to say.

Eleven of the 17 schools are over projection with Conwell-Egan leading the way at 153 percent of projection. In three schools, Archbishop Wood, John W. Hallahan and Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast, the incoming freshman class will be the largest class in the school. Conwell-Egan and Bonner/Prendergast were among the high schools originally slated for closing.

St. Hubert’s, which was also among those scheduled to close, was chosen as the venue for the news conference because of the success of its fundraising campaign, which relied mostly on small donors and community support.

Although Hanway declined to put a figure on the expected deficit this year, he estimated it is half of the original estimate because of the increase in enrollment. The foundation has agreed to take responsibility for the deficit and expects that through growth it can be eliminated in future years.

“I will say to you stabilizing enrollment is only a first step, the objective is to grow,” Hanway said.

A major part of the work of the foundation will be recruitment , development and fostering innovative programs.

“Our mission is to transform Catholic schools,” Hanway said. “Good enough isn’t enough. We must be excellent in every facet of our schools.”

The agreement, which includes the 17 high schools as well as the four special education schools for children with physical or developmental disabilities conducted by the Archdiocese, does not include the parochial and regional  elementary schools.

This, Archbishop Chaput explained, is because the elementary schools are controlled by the parishes not the Archdiocese, and he could not include them.

Unlike the high schools, not all of the elementary schools recommended for closure or consolidation by the Blue Ribbon Commission were spared.

The Archdiocese has witnessed a long succession of years of declining enrollment in parochial schools. This impacts the high schools, which depend upon the elementary schools for incoming freshmen.

Although those schools are not part of the pact, both Archbishop Chaput and Hanway gave assurances they will be part of the mission of the foundation.

“Absolutely,” Hanway said. “The foundation desires to raise money for Catholic education broadly, whether that is high schools, grade schools or schools of special education. We are very committed to raising resources that can be used on the grade school level as well.

“In addition there is an initiative we are supporting that looks to a create mission school group that is extremely important to 15 or 20 schools in the urban area. While we are focused very much on secondary and special education in this agreement, the mission of the foundation is to support all Catholic education at all levels.”

Schools that will now be managed by the
Faith in the Future Foundation:

Catholic High Schools:
Archbishop John Carroll High School
Archbishop Ryan High School
Archbishop Wood High School
Bishop McDevitt High School
Bishop Shanahan High School
Cardinal O’Hara High School
Conwell-Egan Catholic High School
 Father Judge High School for Boys
St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls
SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School
John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School
Lansdale Catholic High School
Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls
Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School
Pope John Paul II High School
Roman Catholic High School for Boys
West Philadelphia Catholic High School


Catholic Schools of Special Education:
Archbishop Ryan School for the Deaf
St. Katherine Day School
St. Lucy School for Children with Visual Impairments
Our Lady of Confidence Day School

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Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.