Catholic schools look to the future

Karna Lozoya

Nearly 200 teachers, principals, pastors and archdiocesan leaders gathered with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Radisson Denver Southeast Oct. 5-6 for a two-day symposium to discuss the challenges currently facing Catholic schools in northern Colorado. According to Kevin Kijewski, the superintendent of Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools since July 1, the discussions focused on three key areas: “forming disciples, filling desks and fundraising dollars.”

In the following interview with Denver Catholic, Kijewski elaborates on why Archbishop Aquila convoked the symposium, as well as the archbishop’s desire to renew the commitment of all Catholic schools to form intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.

Q: Why did you convoke a school symposium, and why now?

Kevin Kijewski is the Superintendent of Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools.

Kevin Kijewski is the Superintendent of Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools.

Kijewski: Archbishop Aquila asked me to organize a school symposium to discuss multiple challenges facing our school system and identify possible solutions for implementation. For far too many years, our Catholic school system has suffered from enrollment declines and financial challenges. We believe that solving these problems is terribly important, as Catholic schools are essential to a vibrant future for the Church in Denver. The symposium provided the archdiocese with an opportunity to constructively and effectively address challenges facing our school system. At his December 2009 press conference that introduced Brian Kelly as the University of Notre Dame’s new head football coach, Kelly indicated that a timetable for turning around the football team’s direction cannot be made too long term. “We don’t have a five-year plan,” Kelly said. “We have a five-minute plan and we’ll start to work on it immediately.” Like Coach Kelly, our Catholic schools in Denver need to directly and quickly tackle challenges, and I hope to see our schools performing at the highest levels in the near future.

Q: What challenges did you want to address?

Kijewski: The symposium addressed three key challenges that have faced our schools for the past several years: forming disciples, filling desks and fundraising dollars.

Q: What was the format of the school symposium and who attended?

 Kijewski: The symposium was meant not simply as a chance to frame problems, but more importantly to serve as an opportunity for stakeholders to share and discuss possible solutions. All priests were invited to participate, along with archdiocesan leaders, school leaders, parish staff and school benefactors. The symposium lasted two days and fostered a lot of great discussion and feedback regarding how to solve these three challenges.

Q: Who presented on forming disciples and what was discussed?

Kijewski: Regarding the challenge of forming disciples, Archbishop Aquila presented his vision and expectations related to Catholic schools. Specifically, he stated that Catholic schools exist to form intentional disciples of Jesus Christ and create saints. He discussed how Catholic schools should be the premier method for transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. He charged the Office of Catholic Schools with the responsibility to conduct a visitation of all six Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, with the goal to ensure faithfulness to the Church’s Magisterium. He also asked the stakeholders to present their ideas about how schools could bolster their current efforts to form disciples.

Q: What was discussed regarding the challenge of filling desks?

Kijewski: Addressing the challenge of filling desks with students in our schools, I presented along with Congregation of the Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora from the University of Notre Dame. Specifically, I discussed with the audience various models of school governance. Research has indicated that effective school governance leads to consistent enrollment growth and financial viability of Catholic schools. In addition, I engaged the audience about how our schools may compete with public and charter schools by offering new academic specialty programming or tracks. While our primary goal will always be to form intentional disciples to Jesus Christ, our schools need to examine ways to offer supplemental value by offering specialty programs in the sciences, technology, performing arts and foreign languages.

Father Corpora was able to discuss the importance of serving the Hispanic population in the archdiocese. As an expert working at the University of Notre Dame in the field the recruitment and retention of Hispanic students in Catholic Schools, he shared insights into why it’s critical to focus on serving this population and methods that schools could employ to increase their enrollment in our schools. To illustrate the importance of this issue, 51 percent of the people in the pews at Sunday Mass every week in our archdiocese are Hispanic. However, just about 20 percent of students enrolled in our Catholic schools are Hispanic.

Q: What was discussed about the last piece, fundraising dollars?

Kijewski: To ensure that our schools are able to form disciples and enroll students, it’s also critically important that we address tuition and the financial health of our schools. Keith Parsons, the Chief Financial Officer of the Archdiocese, discussed the current state of school finance. He also presented multiple approaches to ensuring the long-term financial viability of our schools. Stakeholders were asked for their input for how the archdiocese should finance Catholic schools to ensure their long-term viability.

Q: What changes can we expect to see in the short and long term?

Kijewski: Our office will be working with a team to review the feedback and ideas gathered at the symposium. In the short term, we expect to formulate and announce a strategic plan to address and solve these three key challenges. In the long term, we will be implementing strategies that will foster growth, innovation, and effective leadership in our schools.

COMING UP: Forming mind and heart in faith

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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

People tell me pretty regularly that we should not over-intellectualizing the faith — making the Church simply about ideas, doctrines, and rules. I agree that this can be a problem, but we also have to guard seriously against an opposite problem — emotionalizing and privatizing faith. We are blessed with a reasonable faith that can be studied in harmony with the truth of the natural world. Faith and reason strengthen one another, together leading our minds to conform to the mind of the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. In the midst of a secularism which pits science against the faith, it is important that we form our minds in the truth. Being rooted in the truth of our faith does not lead to abstract ideas, but to an encounter with the living God which sets our hearts on fire with His love.

The Dominicans have a long history of teaching the faith, founded originally to preach to those who had fallen into the dualistic heresy of Albigensian and producing the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. The papal theologian, who advised the pope, by tradition comes from St. Dominic’s Order. One of the most renown Dominicans teaching in the United States, Father Thomas Joseph White, has recently been called to Rome to teach at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of the Dominicans. Father White, though a profound scholar, has produced a clear and accessible overview of the Catholic faith.

Father White’s book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Catholic University of America Press, 2017) offers a serious overview of the Catholic faith. It is not a scholarly work, but one that does challenge us to enter more deeply into the theological tradition of the Church, flowing from the Bible and Catechism, the Fathers, and especially the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part of the genius of the book is how it uses the theological tradition to address contemporary concerns such as evolution, sexual ethics, and relativism. The book contains seven major sections—Reason and Revelation, God and Trinity, Creation and the Human Person, Incarnation and Atonement, the Church, Social Doctrine, and the Last Things—as well as a robust epilogue on prayer.

Father White challenges us to “to be an intellectual. . . to seek to see into the depths of reality” (1). As intellectual beings, we have been created in the image of God and are called to enter into his truth and life. Therefore, White reminds us that “every person has to accept risk in truth’s call to us. Even religious indifference is a kind of risk, perhaps the greatest of all, for if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. The mind is reason’s instrument, but the heart its seat” (5). Therefore, the ultimate questions lead the mind into prayerful contemplation of the truth. Theology cannot remain an intellectual enterprise alone, but must lead us to encounter God in prayer: “Prayer is grounded in our natural desire for the truth. When we pray we are trying to find God, to praise him, and to see all things realistically in light of him. In a sense, then, prayer stems from a search for perspective” (288).

Our faith forms us as a whole person and shapes our feelings and desires according to what is highest. Father White rightly points out that “heart and intelligence go together” (49). When it comes to God, intellectual theory is not enough, as he calls us to know him in a “concrete, personal, affective relationship” (48). This does not mean that we can dispense with theology. Quite to the contrary, “we want to get right who God is, and what the mystery of Christ is, so that we can be in living contact with divine love” (42). God speaks to us so that we may come to know him by exercising our minds to know the truth given us through the Church (36).

Knowing God is the work a lifetime and our eternal vocation. We can strengthen our faith by studying theological truths and deepening our capacity to contemplate divine things. Father White’s book will help us all to be theologians, entering into the practice of theology as faith seeking understanding. As we come to know God more, it should lead us to fall in love with him more deeply, strengthening our relationship with him and preparing us to see him face to face.