Thursday, January 5, 2012


As a Catholic school teacher at a private, independent all-girls school in the Philadelphia area, I have hard a constant stream of commentary, angst and fear over the coming pronouncement tomorrow that upwards of 40 (or more) diocesan schools will close or consolidate at the end of this academic year.  This will represent the single largest consolidation/closure of its kind in the Church's history in the US, and it will be announced the day after Cardinal John Newman's feast day.  Newman is the founding of the Catholic school system here in Philadelphia, a model that spread throughout the nation.  It focused on parish-based schools, which in turn fostered a strong sense of identity based on neighborhood.  I remember when I first moved to Philadelphia and came to know people who grew up in the area.  When you asked where someone was from, the answer was almost always _____ parish.  Not their town, not their street, not their geographic location in the sense that I understood 'home'.  Your parish is your home.  That has changed significantly over the years in Philadelphia as some parishes and schools have already consolidated, but tomorrow will create a whole new era of Catholic identity, parish life and education in Philadelphia, and in the United States.  One of my co-workers and dear friends who is born and raised in Philadelphia, put it so poignantly: "People from Philadelphia identify with their parish and where they went to high school. Our families have supported the Archdiocese Of Philadelphia for generations and we are proud and grateful to have experienced what many of us call the best four years of our lives. Some may call it a sign of the times but I have other words for it. I will be praying for hundreds of teachers and students who will be displaced."
There is anger and hurt, questions about why the numbers attending schools are so low, where the money given to parish collections on Sunday is actually going, and an overall distrust and frustration on the behalf of many.  And yet we must move forward and carry on, realizing that though the form and structure might be different, we still need to do the work of forming 'home' and relationship for people and with God.  Maybe it is unfair for me to speak so optimistically on this topic.  After all, my school/home/place of employment is not under threat of closing down.  My heart breaks, and my heart beat gets faster when I think about what that would mean to me if I were that personally affected.  And some of my friends and companions will be.  What can we do?  Choose to stay, to claim our Catholic identity and re-build this broken Church to reflect the image of home and family that Saint John Newman and Jesus Christ envisioned (and that many of us have been blessed to experience at times).
And so we pray with, and for, those who will be displaced, those in leadership positions, and those whose sense of 'home' will forever be changed.  We stand in solidarity, refusing to give up and pledging support and ultimately we look to God for what's next.

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