What Centers A Parish’s Parents?

Being in the role of a school parent and parish staff member makes me a rara avis of sorts. My family’s interface in parish and school is lensed through my own role in ministry. I see Sunday Masses, unlike most of the families of my daughter’s classmates. I also see adult events at which fewer of her peers’ parents participate. I have the sad perspective of knowing my parish could be substantially better, if only it had the involvement of parishioners who often seem happy to avail themselves a Catholic and/or prep school education on behalf of their daughters and sons–and no more.

It’s been a curious experience to be a school parent and rub shoulders with my peers or volunteer for our kids, or take a role as a staff person in ministry to the parish children, too. My colleagues make these choices less frequently, so they don’t always perceive the potential in these mostly semi-churched families. Evangelization, it strikes me, can’t be much easier than when the people drive onto your property ten or more times a week.

The “GSS Parents” sent me the blog link for Rochester school closings. I wanted to give some thought to what I’d say about it. In an effort to make as many people as possible uneasy (as opposed to the co-dependent way of trying to make them all happy) I present it with comment.

My wise former pastor, Father John Weiss, once told a gathering of school parents they had the non-parent parishioners, especially the elderly, right where they wanted them. Or, rather, they could have it that way. He said that if they were to bring their families to church every Sunday, and the rest of the parish experienced every weekend what polite, freshly-scrubbed, attentive, well-dressed and -shod, faith-filled children they had, the parish would have them eating out of their hands. People get inspired by leaving a legacy. Rather than think of the parish as an us-and-them landscape, consider it a mutual opportunity to build an extended family of faith. Or words to that effect.

As for the school closures in Rochester, I have a few comments and questions. If any Rochester visitors can answer them for me, feel free. Obviously, anybody else in St Blog’s can take a shot, too:

Have the school parents involved other lay parishioners in their efforts? Have they contacted non-parents to garner support: financial, moral, or anything?

Have they committed to attending Sunday Mass, possibly in numbers? Our best estimates at my parish would have about one-third of school families going to Mass on any given weekend. What if they all chose one Mass, possibly the most crowded, and arrived fifteen minutes early? What if they availed themselves of donuts, juice, and coffee after that Mass? I wouldn’t suggest this one lightly, but imagine if all a school’s students and parents decided to show up for confession on the same Saturday.

Like many other tired northeastern cities, Rochester has already endured waves of parish closings, school reorganizations, and other events of great hand-wringing. The traditionalists seem to think they have the market cornered on how things used to be. Trying to recover an idealized past is almost always a failed effort. Time travel is not an option, at least not today.

I do have sympathy for these parents. But I’m not going to do their job for them.

Heck, they could band together outside the parish and diocesan system, start their own school, and make a go of it on their own. Nobody could stop them. They could even put the descriptor “Catholic School” on a building, hire the old staff back, and it would look not too different from this year.

However, if their cause fades, some might choose to demonize the bishop or the pope or somebody. But the real culprit will be the overriding tendency of some people to expect their rights, without a parallel commitment to their duties. If it fades, this won’t be about failed schools. It will be because parents lacked the vision about the “Catholic” side of the equation.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to What Centers A Parish’s Parents?

  1. Mike McDougall says:

    Thanks for your post regarding the Catholic schools closings in Rochester, N.Y. In response to your questions, the answer is a wholehearted “yes” for at least some of the affected schools.

    In the cases of Good Shepherd School, Holy Cross, Holy Trinity and St. John of Rochester, the students, parents, and faculty are an integral part of the connected parishes.

    Can this be said for the other nine schools? Probably not, although some may be more tightly aligned to their parishes than others. However, for the four schools cited above, they are one with the parishes from which they draw their students. This makes the decision all the more sad, and all the more detrimental for the faith communities as a whole.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for posting, Mike. If memory serves, the parish-school ties were weakened a reform or two ago by what seems to be some sort of regionalization. I read you have a set tuition, and finances contributed to from various non-school parishes, too.

    I don’t have a magic answer. Some would say I offer little more than smarta** replies. Our parish school is free to parishioners; only non-Catholics pay tuition. It’s still not easy, though we’ll probably outlast most or all our neighbors. Yet we still have people saying, “The school is the heart of the parish.” That comes from a rather conservative traditionalist who should know better. But he does go to Mass.

  3. Matthew Meloche says:

    If your school is free to parishioners, how do you define parishioners? Do they have to just attend Mass every week, just be registered, donate a certain amount each week?

    Our school has a graded system. The lowest tuition is payed by Catholics who are parishioners and volunteer their time at bingos, the festival, various outreach programs, etc for a certain amount of hours per year. However, they still have to pay a sizeable fee (although coming from a province where Catholic education is run by the government and free, I’d think any fee would be sizeable).

  4. Todd says:

    Matthew, we have to pledge and pay a 5% tithe on our incomes. Requiring Mass attendance is not in the picture.

  5. Mike says:

    You write, “If it fades, this won’t be about failed schools. It will be because parents lacked the vision about the ‘Catholic’ side of the equation.”

    Actually, that’s something I would expect from one who doesn’t know much about what’s been going on here in Rochester the last several years.

    The truth is that some concerned parents recognized an impending financial crisis two years ago and tried to get the diocese’s permission to gather other parents from all around the county to plan for the future. Their letters (note the plural) were never answered.

    A fuller story is at http://dorcatholic.blogspot.com/2008/03/columnist-bishop-brushed-aside-parents.html

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