March 30, 2007

Comprehensive plan to focus on Terre Haute Deanery

Sacred Heart of Jesus School to close in June

Criterion staff report

Following the recommendation of a five-month study of the Terre Haute Deanery, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will initiate and fund a comprehensive plan that will focus on the future of Catholic education and the 13 parishes in the deanery.

Expected to take a year to complete, the planning process will be designed to create recommendations for Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein about the composition and roles of parishes as the number of priests in the deanery is expected to decline from 11 to five by 2012.

The plan also has the goal of creating deanery-wide strategies for Catholic education ministries and drafting the best possible scenario for Catholic schooling in the Terre Haute Deanery.

Scheduled to begin in April, the planning process will be led by Terre Haute Deanery parish priests and parish life coordinators.

Another recommendation of the study, which was released on March 19 to a steering committee, validated parish recommendations for closing Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Terre Haute at the end of the school year.

Sacred Heart is one of two Catholic elementary schools in the Terre Haute area, educating 51 students from pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade. Fewer students were expected to enroll next year. St. Patrick School has an enrollment of 314 students from preschool through the eighth grade. The cost per pupil at St. Patrick is $3,505, compared to $9,019 at Sacred Heart.

“The Sacred Heart finance committee had already determined the school needed to be closed before the study report was issued,” said David Wulf, a member of the parish finance committee.

Archbishop Buechlein gave formal permission for the closing on March 22.

Wulf acknowledged that the decision to close the school at the end of this academic year has been met with “sadness and grief” in the community but “with 51 students, it doesn’t make sense to continue it. Our parish is aging. We don’t have the youths we had. Our parish is not able to sustain the program.”

Archdiocesan officials lamented the ending of the school’s 83-year-old history.

“The sense of loss is shared throughout the entire archdiocese,” said G. Joseph Peters, associate executive director of Catholic education for the archdiocese.

Peters said serious efforts to keep the school open this long included a school study, reorganization of the school structure, Home Mission grants from the archdiocese and incurring of parish debt.

While the study found no reason to keep Sacred Heart School open beyond this school year, it also suggested that “if a deanery-wide plan for Catholic schooling takes place in the coming months, strong consideration should be given to the Sacred Heart site for some of the preschool and/or primary grades.”

Trying to help Sacred Heart families choose a school next year, St. Patrick School leaders were scheduled to have an information night for Sacred Heart parents and their children on March 28.

Archdiocesan officials said the archdiocese is committed to funding and creating a plan for the Terre Haute Deanery that would use a multi-parish collaboration for the five Catholic education ministries: adult faith formation, religious education, youth ministry, Catholic schooling and campus ministry.

“The recommendation of planning so that all five ministries which serve the Church are embraced and embodied as one focus on Catholic education in the deanery is powerful,” said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

The integrated approach “allows for a stronger Catholic identity in the deanery with the Church as its center,” Lentz noted.

“What the study found is that there’s already significant collaboration going on right now,” Peters said. “There are also many opportunities for collaborative ministry that the people of the deanery believe can be done, including outreach beyond Terre Haute.”

The study of the Terre Haute Deanery was conducted from November 2006 through March 2007 by the Paremos Group of Dayton, Ohio. Funded by the archdiocese, the study was designed to explore the future of parish Catholic education ministries in the deanery.

The study group’s steering committee was comprised of a representative from each parish, school principals and two archdiocesan officials. More than 1,700 parishioners in the deanery completed surveys for the study while 168 people participated in focus group sessions.

“Throughout the study, significant interest was expressed about increasing the number of children who attend a Catholic school as the most important means to educating young people in their faith,” the report noted. “Most of the recommendations on this topic focused on the design and creation of a deanery-wide pre-kindergarten-12 school structure that is more broadly funded to be more affordable and attractive to families.”

Another emphasis of the study is to focus on a stronger Catholic identity for the deanery as a whole, especially since the study predicts there will be only five priests in the deanery by 2012.

Eleven priests currently serve the 13 parishes and 4,250 Catholic households in the deanery.

“I’m encouraged by the study,” said Father Rick Ginther, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and St. Margaret Mary Parish, both in Terre Haute. “From this will grow a strategic plan for the Terre Haute Deanery for how we will be the Church in the future in the deanery.

“We can’t keep doing it the way we are doing it for a number of factors: the number of priests, the total staffing and the aging of our buildings. The study will be an important effort for a very healthy and viable presence in the future.”

The study acknowledges that “there are too many Deanery parishes for the current number of Catholics.” At the same time, the study noted that “parishioners strongly value their parish community and Deanery planning needs to be respectful of this important reality.”

The planning process will be a unique opportunity for the Catholic community of Terre Haute to come together and plan for their future, Peters said.

“The study uncovered a great sense of hope for the future in the Terre Haute Deanery,” Peters said. “There was great participation in the study. There was a stated willingness to collaborate. I think people were looking at the bigger picture. We saw hope-filled people with a sense of the greater good.” †

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