Worthy of the Name: Vision document aims to revitalize Catholic schools

Aaron Lambert

Catholic schools week is Jan. 31 – Feb 6, and in honor of the occasion, the Office of Catholic Schools is releasing a vision document highlighting what characteristics make a school deserving of the title “Catholic.”

At last year’s Catholic school symposium, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gathered with over 200 teachers, principals, pastors and archdiocesan leaders to discuss ways to overcome the challenges facing Catholic schools.

The fruits of the symposium have manifested themselves in a vision document titled “Worthy of the Name.”

The opening letter for the document, penned by Archbishop Aquila and Superintendent of Catholic Schools Kevin Kijewski, describes the mission of Catholic schools as assisting “parents in helping their children encounter Jesus Christ and the gift of our Catholic faith,” and speaks of the vision formulated as a result of the symposium.

“This vision is ambitious,” the letter states, “But rightly so, since the issues we are facing are significant and cannot be remedied without robust solutions.”

The document describes four focus areas: “On mission,” “Excellent in every way,” “Accessible to all,” and “Sustainable for the future.”

On Mission

With authentic discipleship in schools being a key focus of the plan, the hiring process for Catholic school teachers is going to be refined and will include a stronger focus on ensuring the teachers hired are what the vision document refers to as “disciple-teachers.” It also involves administrators and candidates discerning the profession of being a teacher at a Catholic school as a vocation and not just a job.

“Being a teacher at a Catholic school is a vocation, a calling that God gives to those whom he wants to play a vital role in helping parents,” the strategic plan states. “Teachers should strive to possess and communicate real Christian wisdom and virtue in teaching. The method of such teachers ought to convey to their students and awaken in them something beyond the subject by helping them understand the subject’s proper place in the students’ lives, showing them how it points to the universal truths of Creation and giving them a love for learning.”

In order to foster this mentality of discipleship, the Office of Catholic Schools will be implementing ongoing formation programs for its school employees as well as a mentoring program.

To ensure the highest-quality teachers are hired and to promote excellence from them, a new hiring toolkit with the intent of finding and forming disciple-teachers is being developed, as well as an improved teacher evaluation instrument “that will assess behaviors, actions and practices that are used by highly-effective Catholic school teachers.”Worthy of the name cover

Excellent in Every Way

The vision document also goes into detail about the role Catholic schools play in the formation of the entire person, their function in supporting families and their need for continuity and security.

To better compete with the education market, the Office of Catholic Schools will be assisting schools in developing new methods and innovations to meet the unique needs of students and provide an even higher quality of education to its students.

“This will assist schools in becoming uniquely and individually excellent, all the while driving enrollment across the school system,” the plan states.

Boards of specified jurisdictions could also potentially be established at schools to help alleviate some of the challenges pastors face being the president of a school. By employing board members with specific areas of expertise, pastors are given the tools they need to govern parish schools more effectively, the plan states. The Office of Catholic Schools will pilot two boards of specified jurisdiction at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Denver and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Fort Collins, and should they prove successful, similar models will be deployed in various configurations across the archdiocese.

Another important pillar of the “Excellent in every way” focus area is implementing a more effective marketing strategy to share with the public the many benefits of enrolling students in Catholic schools.

“There are already many aspects of our schools that make them very attractive, yet sometimes they are not readily known to the community, and especially prospective families of students,” the document states.

Accessible to All

The ever-growing Latino population in Denver, as well as other immigrant groups, are also addressed in the document.

“The future of the Catholic Church is closely bound to this growing population,” the plan states.

The Office of Catholic Schools will launch specialized efforts to ensure that the Latino and immigrant populations have access to Catholic education and that this demographic is better-represented in Catholic schools.

“Efforts to transform the Latino population into key stakeholders in parishes and schools are necessary for the archdiocese to thrive in the future,” the plan states.

Taking inspiration from the Marinas Model at the University of Notre Dame, The Office of Catholic Schools will implement a Latino Enrollment Initiative to draw more of the Latino population to schools.

“Communication with the Latino community is different than the communication methods typically used for non-Latino communities. Within the context of the new communication efforts for Catholic schools, particular attention and resources will be used to create a plan specifically for Latinos,” the plan states.

A new position specifically for this initiative will also be created in the Office of Catholic Schools. The Director of Latino Enrollment will coordinate and lead efforts to recruit and retain Hispanic students in all Catholic schools.

Finally, those in leadership positions will be trained in understanding the culture and faith of Latinos, and there will be a conscious effort to recruit and form leaders from within this population.

Sustainable for the Future

The final focus area of the school strategic plan addresses the business and financial aspects of Catholic schools.

This part of the strategic plan involves reworking school budgets, centralizing fundraising and raising teacher salaries.

The concept of developing “right-sized” school budgets is a central pillar of this focus area. The Office of Catholic Schools will require schools to turn in budgets based on a reasonable enrollment projection and a reasonable allocation of the parish’s offertory, the plan states. Additionally, “right-sized” target ratios between school personnel and students will be worked toward over the next several school years, which includes a goal of at least 20 students for every core teacher.

School budgets, tuition and financial aid will be based on per pupil costs. The plan states that “tuition across the system will be set to give families an even starting line.”

The Office of Catholic Schools will also develop a more cohesive network between each individual school in the archdiocese to address fundraising needs.

“Archdiocesan schools operate mostly autonomously from each other. The future success of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, especially with funding, will depend on system-wide solutions where appropriate,” the plan states.

A centralized method for fundraising will be developed for all archdiocesan K-12 schools. This will include a centralized financial aid system to assess individual family financial needs and disburse aid.

A discount will be offered as incentive for teachers to enroll their own kids in Catholic schools as well as for families to enroll multiple children.

The plan also addresses the question of teacher salaries. Salaries will be “prudently” raised to offer a more competitive and attractive environment and better recruit and retain highly effective teachers.

Worthy of the Name
Vision DocumentRead “Worthy of the Name” at DenverCatholicSchools.com
TeleforumDiscuss the vision document with Archbishop Aquila and Kevin Kijewski on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Text “OCS” to 828282 to register.

COMING UP: Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

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Finding renewal in a grumbling stomach

Lent and the art of fasting

Aaron Lambert

One interesting thing about liturgical seasons in the Church is that despite the fact they happen at roughly the same time every year, they still manage to sneak up on us.

Lent begins in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 26 this year. Never mind that most of us are probably just now fully recovered from the craziness of the Christmas season; it’s now time to enter what is arguably the most important season in the liturgical year. Oh, and we’re supposed to be extremely prayerful, reverent and intentional in how we approach Lent. Given all the other things happening in each of our lives, no big deal, right?

Don’t worry — you’re not alone in feeling just a bit overwhelmed at the thought. But let’s take it a step even further and add some icing to that cake in the form of fasting (no pun intended). Fasting is an ancient practice that pre-dates even Christianity and is common to nearly all religions of the world. In fact, the act of fasting is mentioned more times in the Bible than baptism. In recent times, much has been said about the physical benefits of fasting — weight loss, stronger immune system, more effective cell regeneration — but it’s important for us to remember that fasting is first and foremost a spiritual discipline, one that’s meant to spool the thread which connects us to our loving Creator.

Admittedly, the rules for fasting during Lent have loosened up over the centuries; it’s not a stretch to say that in the time of the apostles, fasting was a hardcore thing for disciples of Jesus Christ to do. You see, back then, fasting during Lent meant fasting for all 40 of those days leading up to the feast of Easter. While many of us may tremble at the thought of not eating anything of true sustenance for over five weeks, there is something to be said in the spirit of denying ourselves our usual pleasures during the Lenten season as a way to draw nearer to he who can provide true nourishment and satisfaction.

The act of fasting can help foster in us three characteristics that ultimately make Lent not only a penitential season, but also one of renewal.

Asceticism
The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise and most especially athletic training. Essentially, it is the act of rigorous self-discipline and avoidance of overindulgence, with the aim of instilling in oneself a sense of self-control and virtue. In its most basic form, fasting is a type of asceticism; willingly denying ourselves the everyday comforts of life in an effort to unite our spirits more closely with that of Christ.

Of course, the practice of asceticism is counter-cultural in almost every way. We live in a world where our needs and desires are met on-demand, and to voluntarily abstain from one of these seems a preposterous proposition to the outsider. But it’s interesting, to bring back the Greek root of this word, to think of how the world’s best athletes implement this practice. Think of the intense training, strict dietary restrictions and long hours of work they put in the be the absolute best at what they do. Yes, it’s likely unbearably difficult at times, but they know deep down that their discomfort has a purpose.

Society tells us that suffering and discomfort are bad things to be avoided at all costs. But we as Christians look to the example of our Lord, who was willingly led to his death on Calvary, undertook unspeakable suffering and was made to feel like less than a man. Through his suffering mankind was redeemed, and because of his victory, we, too, can find redemption and renewal in our own trials. By practicing asceticism during Lent and giving up those things we find comfort in — sugar, Netflix, technology, or any other vice — we are not only reminded of the sacrifice Christ made for us, but we are strengthening the muscles of willpower and virtue that lead us closer to the Lord, and ultimately, true joy and peace.

Humility
“Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary. Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility and all virtues vanish.”

St. John Vianney is quoted as saying this, and it’s a simple yet effective illustration of how all virtue flows from humility. To use a metaphor, if asceticism is what it is to, say, learn a new instrument, then humility is the marked improvement and mastery of that instrument over time.

By observing the Lenten fast, we are humbled rather quickly. Nothing makes us reflect on our own mortality and brokenness quite like the low grumble of a hungry stomach. And yet, by offering up this minute suffering during Lent and allowing the Lord to take it, it becomes apparent just how much we rely on him to not only provide the various provisions of our life, but also to provide meaning in our various sufferings. Mankind, for all its wonders and brilliance, cannot be sustained without the provisions of God.

From a more practical angle, there’s also no harm in fasting from food and technology to remind us of the many different walks of life people come from. It’s easy to take all the conveniences of our cozy lives for granted but Lent especially presents a great opportunity to remember those “least of us” who live in third-world countries, or even just down the street. Instead of buying two Big Macs for yourself for lunch, why not give one to the woman holding a sign at that intersection?

By maintaining a disposition of humility, we tap into the very core of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

Freedom
So, through fasting, you have committed to a practice of asceticism for Lent, are reaping the benefits of staying humble, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Now what?

Ultimately, there is a profound freedom that comes from fasting. Father Richard Simon of Relevant Radio said in a May 2019 episode of his show Father Simon Says, “Fasting is an exercise in freedom. The purpose of it is to train your will to do God’s will. To train your will to obey the Lord. Freedom is the absolute requirement for the Christian life. Most people think that freedom is getting what they want, but they don’t understand that they don’t want what they want, it is their passions controlling them.

“It is their desires, their hungers, their preferences that want what they want when they want it,” he continued. “The self is not free. The self is subject to this sort of barrage off weakened human nature, but fasting is about freedom.”

True freedom, as defined by God, isn’t the ability to say “yes” to your own desires whenever you want — it is the discipline to say yes to the Lord’s desires for you. Therefore, as we go through the Lenten season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, we fast in remembrance of the perfect image of true freedom: Christ crucified on the Cross.

One of the lessons of the Lenten season is that we, too, are capable of achieving this freedom. By strengthening our will through the practice of fasting, we can grow in humility, from which all other virtue flows. In our humility, we find freedom to do the Lord’s will for our lives. And in that freedom, waiting with open arms, is the sweet renewal that our souls yearn for — renewal in the self-denying, humble and freely-given love of Christ.