A Virtue of a Necessity

Most organizations or institutions do not make changes until they just stop functioning. Somewhere in a vague past the complexity and size that an institution had built up actually helped. Then it stops. But the institution can’t even think about operating in another way. That is the way we’ve always done things – even though it isn’t. And a big part of it is that the institution made promises, promises they can’t keep anymore. And instead of admitting that and going into triage mode – finding what can be done – they keep the external dead husk of a structure while killing everything in it with 10% cut after 10% cut. And that can go on forever – until it just stops or until someone with the leadership and guts comes along to change it.

Parochially, the Eastern District and the LCMS has been in that situation for years. Taking a look at the budget is sad tale of woe of zombie programs and structure that just won’t die. All the while strangling things that might work. A tale of hospice instead of triage. A tale of care-taking instead of healing.

This NY times article and this bishop’s letter on the same thing – the NYC catholic schools – would seem to signal a change in that institution. It seems that Archbishop Timothy Dolan wants to be a leader. (The hospice image is his.) He’s picked a couple of interesting fights. First he’s picked a fight with “American Individualism”.

I fear as well an attitude that the support of our Catholic schools is only the duty of the parents who have children there. In this view, a parish without a school has no obligation at all to support other Catholic schools, and a parish blessed with a school might offer a “subsidy” to the school, but shifts the major burden of upkeep to the “school families,” who then are looked upon as “demanding drains” on the rest of the parish.

Such a view, of course, is, simply put, “non-Catholic.” As our tradition, Church teaching, canon law and cherished Catholic practice remind us, support of Catholic schools is a duty of the entire Church, even if you may not have a child now in one, or belong to a parish without one.

There are concentric rings of responsibility. Luther put the catechism to the head of the household by which he meant the father. But he also meant the heads of larger houses including the princes as the heads of the household of state when he wrote in 1524 a treatise “To the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” Luther would agree with the Archbishop.

The second fight he picks is over the role Bishops and Clergy. Stop the whining, stop the “good enough for church work”, stop the narcissism and pious sad face – and do your real job. Building hope. And it starts with competence in the job placed before you.

Finally, I fear a subtle buy-in into what I call the hospice mentality. Some bishops, priests, pastoral leaders, and Catholic faithful now sigh and say, “Well, we sure love our schools, and they have served us well, but, sadly, their day is over, and twilight is here. So, the best we can do is make their passing comfortable, and hold their hand while they slowly pass into grateful memory.”

Malarkey! We need to move from hospice to hope.

And we can’t do business as usual. To stand back and watch our schools struggle and scrape will only result in an “academic Darwinism”—where only the few fit survive—and a slow shrinking and gradual disappearance.

So, what do we do? We do what those before us have done. We renew passion, face reality and boldly plan for the future. We recover our dare and quit whining.

Pathways to Excellence calls for ongoing improvement internally, with realistic attention to quality teachers and principals, improvement of math and science scores, reassertion of Catholic identity and aggressive marketing.

Nobody wants to dedicate a life (especially a celibate live) to living in a hospice. In 2009 protestant seminaries had 20,835 M.Div students while catholic had 2,170 – an order of magnitude difference. It is nice to see someone with the leadership mantle appearing to use it.

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