THE IMPORTANCE OF CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND PARISH COLLABORATION
An Interesting Case Study
It is not by accident that our company is named “Institute for School and Parish Development.” For over 27 years we have had the opportunity to work with Catholic schools, parishes, and dioceses. Many of these have been with parishes with no schools, Catholic high schools owned by religious communities, diocesan high schools, regional Catholic schools, parishes with a Catholic school next door, plus others. As time has marched on, different circumstances have driven different alignments, mergers, and configurations. As one pastor recently told me, “We do what we have to do in order to proclaim and teach the Good News.”
Here at ISPD, we have often believed that the relationship between Catholic schools and parishes can be greatly improved. On the concern side, here are some situations we have observed numerous times:
- The parish subsidizing the Catholic school to the point of under-funding important ministries of the parish;
- The parishioners sitting in the pews on the weekend not having a clue to what their Catholic school offers and what it does for young people;
- Catholic school families not participating in the celebration of liturgy at their parish;
- Catholic School Week being the only time when the parish really learns more about their Catholic school;
- Parishes and schools not collaborating with their development and fund-raising events and therefore not having a master plan for action;
- Parishes and schools not strategically planning together;
- Personnel with the parish and personnel with the school not working together in many areas of collaboration – such as religious education, sports programs, marketing, facilities, etc.
- The pastor and principal not seeing the value of a true partnership where each one is able to complement the other;
- The Catholic school not recognizing that they are a ministry of the parish just like other ministries – although probably the largest. And, the parish not recognizing that much of the energy and life of a Catholic parish can come from a vibrant and “alive” Catholic school.
- This list can go on.
On the flip side of this coin, there are those Catholic school and parish collaborative relationships that are alive and thriving. One such parish and school, whose story I would like to share, is located right here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Over the past year, we have had the opportunity to work with Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Believing in collaboration, parish and school leaders recognize these are exciting yet challenging times. Father Kyle Dave, the pastor, has established himself as an effective and inclusive leader. The people of the parish have embraced his ministry, and he has brought a dynamic and engaging way of relating to all people, ministries, and groups in the parish. The school is now flourishing under a new principal — Kirsch Wilberg — who began her first year at OLPH in 2016-17. Nicole Giambelluca has accepted a key leadership position for both school and the parish and is working in the areas of Marketing and Enrollment Management, as well as serving as the Coordinator for a new Strategic Plan for Development/Stewardship. There is a new synergy that is being created with both parish and school leaders – one that is positive and encouraging. Exciting things are happening with many initiatives being implemented as well as new ones on the horizon.
The parish and the school have many opportunities for the future, especially in building upon this new synergy, establishing a clearer vision for the future, and continuing to reach out and engage more people. Here are some of those opportunities and challenges at OLPH:
- The challenge to communicate this culture of collaboration;
- The challenge to create opportunities for involvement and engagement of all – especially young people and young families;
- The challenge to build upon the new energy at OLPH School and address the enrollment challenges that most all Catholic schools face;
- The challenge to clearly define the short term and long term facility needs;
- The challenge to build ownership of the Strategic Plan for Development/Stewardship and engage people in order to implement the strategic initiatives;
- The challenge to seek more input about the parish’s direction in terms of facilities;
- The opportunity to organize and implement a facility feasibility study;
- The opportunity to continue to focus the development and stewardship efforts with clear direction and focus;
- The opportunity to engage more alumni into the life of the school;
- The opportunity to embrace the New Evangelization and move forward with creative and culture-changing initiatives;
- The opportunity to continue to build this culture of belonging under the leadership of Father Kyle Dave.
Key steps have taken place:
- Overall Assessment of parish and school relationship;
- Educating on Catholic Development/Stewardship to parish and school leaders;
- Establishing the Core Team of 15-18 representative leaders;
- Conducting surveys with parish and school families;
- Presenting the AWE! Workshop – Affirming, Welcoming and Engaging – to parish and school leaders;
- Identifying and creating the Top 8 Challenges facing the parish and the school;
- Conducting three Strategic Planning Workshops with 75+ people involve in small group discussion offering solutions to the Challenges;
- Inviting the entire parish and all school families to a Convocation in order to seek their input on the Challenges;
- Creating the final Strategic Plan for Development/Stewardship based upon parishioner and parent input;
- Outlining and organizing the Implementation Process around four Implementation Teams.
Growing out of this collaborative process, OLPH created five Core Values that have guided their efforts:
- Creating, cultivating and promoting an inclusive and affirming culture;
- Actively engaging all people;
- Striving for and promoting a thirst for continued understanding of the Catholic faith;
- Living out their Catholic identity as pro-active disciples;
- Communicating their compelling vision.
Seven strategic initiatives are being implemented:
- Enhancing the Weekend Mass Experience;
- Testing the feasibility for a multi-purpose building for the parish and the school;
- Reconfiguring the church which accents their Catholic identity and reverence;
- Beginning more small faith communities, and exploring Alpha;
- Restoring and modernizing OLPH School;
- Offering year-round Bible studies for all men, women, and children;
- Continuing the partnership and promotion of the growth and successes of OLPH School.
OLPH is clearly a parish that is forward thinking, energetic, positive, and pro-active.
Realizing they needed to, “Get on with the business of living or get on with the business of dying,” (Shawshank Redemption), they elected to really live – with Christ at the center. They are moving into the second year of their journey. They have a vision; they believe in their leaders, and they are willing to invite, listen, and follow their compass of engaging all. We pray that more parishes and Catholic schools will move in this direction of collaboration and cooperation.