As a company we have guided many dioceses through the process of merging, opening and regionalizing schools. The folks leading those efforts often feel a sense of frustration when people express anger, heartache and sadness upon hearing the news that their beloved Catholic school is closing, merging or reopening under a new name. For those who have worked behind the scenes gathering the data to make an informed decision they have had time to process the news. Those learning of it for the first time have not. Perhaps a better response may be-thanks for caring. For many people, their Catholic school is the place in which they have grown up and come to know and experience Christ. Aside from the family, their school is often one of the first “communities” to which they have belonged. The bishops of the United States in their 1972 pastoral message To Teach as Jesus Did expressed this reality:
Community is at the heart of Christian education not simply as a concept to be taught but as a reality to be lived. Through education, men must be moved to build community in all areas of life; they can do this best if they have learned the meaning of community by experiencing it.”(National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, §23)
In 2005 this message was echoed and expanded upon in the USCCB’s Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium:
These Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated.”(p. 266)
It is no wonder families are often tossed into an initial state of grief at the news of closures, mergers and regionalizing schools. Yet, just as the Christian story doesn’t end with death, nor does the story of our schools, for we as Christians believe in the Resurrection. Just as the Apostles initially felt sadness, loss and fear following the death of Jesus but ultimately were moved by the Holy Spirit to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, so too are we as members of these schools going through a similar change and transformation. We too are called by the Holy Spirit to move beyond our grief to trust in God’s continuous presence in our world and be people of hope and courage invigorated by the vision aimed at not only sustaining but growing our Catholic Schools. Drawing on the writing of the saints, McNeill and Higgins (2002) wrote:
I had been looking at my life in one way… And then things happened to destroy it… To change it… And in the midst of the destruction, In the midst of the changes, I remained faithful to God. I held on, and God created something new.”(pp. 252-264)
God indeed is creating something new in our schools today. We at Meitler feel it in a very palpable way. In this past year not only have we helped with regionalizing schools, we have assisted in 8 new school studies! So, while yes, there is sadness and loss associated with change, I pray my response remains a “thank you for caring” because without the love and care of one another there is the absence of community.