SHREWSBURY — Families and teachers are preparing to save their Catholic schools from closing as the Archdiocese of St. Louis plans a massive reorganization of its declining population.
Despite dozens of closures over the past few decades, there are still too many parochial schools for the number of children to fill. The “All Things New” initiative will produce a “dramatic impact on the current plan” of the archdiocese’s 178 parishes and 100 schools, said the Reverend Chris Martin, who is helping lead the restructuring plan.
The ultimate goal is “affordable Catholic education available to anyone in the archdiocese who wants to choose it, which also pays teachers a living wage,” Martin said.
The Catholic school system is a “broken model” that depends on baby boomer tithing to educate millennials. Older parishioners subsidize scholarships at the expense of other ministries. And the teacher’s starting salary is just over $30,000, a social justice issue for the church, Martin said.
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Parishioners were asked to complete a 75-question survey this month about their relationship with their church and school community. An additional survey for school families will be released soon to help guide the changes that will be announced in May 2023.
“I think what they’re doing with the survey, they’re trying to figure out where they’re going to have the biggest fight on their hands,” said Colette Edson, who was part of an archdiocesan school committee formed in 2013 and led to the closure of five parochial schools in South St. Louis over the past decade.
Parishes have held town hall meetings this month, leaving anxious parents with more questions than answers about the future of their schools.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, St. Louis Catholic Church served to lift immigrant communities out of poverty. The success of this mission was also the downfall – Catholic families joined the middle class and moved west to the suburbs.
Elementary school enrollment in schools across the Archdiocese has fallen from more than 40,000 in 2000 to about 20,000 this year. Of the 10 largest schools, four are in St. Charles County and only one, St. Gabriel the Archangel, is in the city of St. Louis.
There are 10 Catholic primary schools remaining in the city of St. Louis, down from dozens in the 1970s. Only one – St. Louis Catholic Academy – is north of Boulevard Delmar, following the 2020 closure of the Most Holy Trinity.
Every parish and every school will be affected by the reorganization in one way or another, church leaders said. A potential model for consolidation is South City Catholic Academy, which formed in 2017 with the merger of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joan of Arc schools. In 2012, four Catholic parishes in St. Louis County combined their schools and created a system, Holy Cross Academy, with separate grades on each campus.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski told his dwindling flock on Sunday that “every aspect” of ministry and institutions will be assessed for change.
The tension for church leaders is balancing the original mission of bringing Catholic education to the poor while attracting suburban families who are discouraged by rising tuition fees.
Kirsten Tidwell’s Catholic high school, Gateway Academy in Chesterfield, closed in 2009 due to low enrolment. For their 10-year reunion a few years ago, Tidwell and his classmates gathered on the school football field to reminisce.
“The hardest part is losing the community to return to,” she said. “I miss that aspect of going back and visiting teachers. These teachers feel like your family, they have such an impact on your life.
Tidwell now teaches at a charter school in St. Louis and will likely send her young children to public schools in Kirkwood.
“I don’t think I would send my children to a private Catholic school. It’s become this thing where it’s almost like this elite society,” she said.
While a Catholic elementary education costs $5,000 to $7,000 per year, tuition costs exceed $20,000 for many secondary schools. Priory tops the list at $25,990. The priory and other private Catholic high schools will not be directly affected by the reorganization plan, but the handful of archdiocesan high schools could be at risk.
Staci Lindsey, a parishioner from St. Anthony of Padua in Dutchtown, said the loss of St. Mary’s High School would be devastating for the neighborhood, which has rallied to the school’s state football championship team. last fall.
Tuition at the boys’ school is $11,000, and most students receive scholarships.
“St. Mary’s has really pivoted to make its student body more like the neighborhood’s growing population. It’s really energizing and exciting to see that momentum,” Lindsey said. “Otherwise, how can you evangelize if not by planting your roots in regions where the people are not Catholic? We would like to see a progressive vision of the future that is more inclusive, to really sow the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that are engaged with the church.
A few bright spots are showing in the data, including a slight increase in Catholic elementary school enrollment for the first time in 32 years. There are 150 more students in archdiocesan schools this year, likely an error caused by virtual learning in public schools during the pandemic, said John Schwob, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese.
Regardless of the reorganization, St. Louis will likely still have one of the largest Catholic school systems in the country per capita. Nearly 40% of Catholic schoolchildren here attend parochial schools, three times the national average.
“People put their heart and soul into their parish and their school,” Schwob said.
Faced with closed feeder schools and falling birth and baptism rates, Catholic high schools in the St. radio programs and by offering new scholarships for excellence.
The school was created by combining three schools – St. Thomas Aquinas-Mercy High (created in a previous merger) and Rosary High in Spanish Lake.
Largest Catholic Primary Schools 2021-2022
Catholic Schools by Enrollment (K-8). Source: Archdiocese of Saint-Louis
|St. Joseph, Cottleville||843|
|Immaculate Conception, Prairie de Dardenne||727|
|Saint Gabriel the Archangel, Saint Louis||495|
|St. Peter, Kirkwood||493|
|Sainte-Catherine Labouré, Sappington||461|
|St. Gerard Majella, Kirkwood||430|
|Holy Child, Ballwin||420|
|Assumption, O’Fallon, Missouri||418|
|Holy Cross Academy, St. Louis County||409|
|St. Patrick’s, Wentzville||406|