January 22, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Opening charter schools will help children in need

This week, I want to explain a complicated venture we are undertaking in order to maintain our commitment to helping poor children break the cycle of poverty. First, I will set the context.

Since that press conference at which my appointment as Archbishop of Indianapolis was announced in 1992, I have declared myself as deeply committed to Catholic education. And I declared my deep concern for poor children who deserve the opportunity to break out from the cycle of poverty.

In response to questions from journalists, I said that I would do everything possible to keep our Catholic schools in the center city in Indianapolis and elsewhere alive in the face of the inevitable challenges we would have to face.

The record will show that, in the 17 years since that press conference, our archdiocese has worked very hard to maintain our mission of excellent education and value formation for our poor children.

Over the years, through the combined generosity of many of our people and corporate friends, we have raised and contributed some $64 million to the cause of Catholic education, much of it going to our poor children in our center-city schools.

As the economic challenges affected our educational mission in more recent years, the burden of caring for the center-city schools was overpowering the sponsoring parishes.

After a great deal of research and study, our leadership decided to remove the burden from inner-city parishes, and we formed a separate consortium of six of those Indianapolis schools, eventually named the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies.

An executive board was formed to oversee the development and needs of the Mother Theodore schools. The chosen solution was helpful, but with the economic downturn our mission of Catholic education was affected everywhere, and particularly severely so in the center city.

Despite effective fundraising efforts, we had begun to experience an annual $2 million plus operating deficit which, of course, we cannot sustain. Our educational mission cannot overpower our resources.

Some committed lay leaders helped us to look at alternative ways in which we could keep our commitment to assure poor children a good education.

We launched yet another corporate campaign to raise $10 million for the Mother Theodore schools. We are making some progress, but the corporate community is challenged in the present economy as well. And, to be frank, even if we succeed in this venture, we still will face a $2 million annual deficit.

Another alternative was proposed for our consideration, namely that we investigate the possibility of making two of our Mother Theodore schools public charter schools. If that could be accomplished, the fiscal management of our Catholic education commitment in the center city would be feasible.

The downside of pursuing this possibility is disappointing because a public charter eliminates religion in the school curriculum and religious symbols as well. We would sacrifice the visibility of our Catholic identity in the charter schools.

We would retain ownership of the school facilities, and would be able to celebrate Mass and offer religious education before or after the hours of the school day. Maintaining ownership of the schools would also give us the opportunity to ensure the customary academic excellence of our schools and the fostering of moral integrity.

Of course, the decision to apply for a charter for two of our schools is a difficult one. We have put our best resources together to find other alternatives, but have not been successful.

There are those who say we must not sacrifice Catholic identity at the two schools in question. But no one has been able to offer an alternative solution.

We cannot endanger the well-being of the archdiocese by continuing to pay for schools that we cannot afford. By maintaining ownership of the school facilities and the charter, we do not abandon the poor children whom we are committed to serve.

And so we are pursuing the application for a charter for two schools: St. Anthony Catholic School and St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy.

The Indianapolis mayor’s office is reviewing our application. We have tried hard to explain this decision, and to review the implications with both teachers and parents of current students of these schools. We are also communicating with our concerned publics and neighbors. We want to provide the best education we can for poor children.

There are critics of this endeavor. It disappoints me that often the criticism does not address the needs of our poor children. I share the disappointment of those who deeply regret the sacrifice and compromising of Catholic identity. It is our hope to find alternative avenues for religious education programs in the parishes affected.

I ask for your understanding and especially your prayers as we pursue this difficult course of action. Always, the focus of our efforts is the desire to help poor children.

Please join me in seeking God’s blessing for this new venture. †

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