I am convinced that Catholic education is one of our most effective tools for preparing a new generation of Catholic citizens who will offer the world the gift of a well-formed conscience and a true vision of life, hope and peace.- Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle
This past Thursday night I was the invited speaker at a St. Lawrence Parish meeting. I was asked by Fr. Eric Underwood to give the Parish an update on the Lafayette Catholic School System’s Growth and Capacity Study and Planning efforts. Both Fr. Underwood and I addressed the audience of approximately 100. I decided after the feedback we received, to use this monthly newsletter to provide all of our school parents, alumni, and stakeholders with this information.
First it would help everyone to know a little history of the Catholic Schools both in the United States and here in Tippecanoe County. The following is an abbreviated timeline of the beginning of Catholic Schools in the United States:
- 1840’s – Large Catholic migration to the US
- 1850’s – Strong anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiment in US
- 1850’s – First Catholic schools opened
- 1900 – Over 3,500 Catholic schools existed to help “protect the faith”
- 1960’s – Over 4.5 million students were enrolled in Catholic schools
Since the mid 19th century the Catholic population in the United States has risen to over 77 million people (see chart below).
This dramatic growth, however, did not translate into more students for Catholic Schools. In fact, just the opposite occurred. By the late 1960’s Catholic School enrollment started to drop and by 2013 only about 2 million students attended Catholic Schools, a loss of over 2.5 million students (as shown in the chart below).
This dramatic decline has been studied by many, and there are a number of culprits: suburbanization; changing societal values; high quality suburban public (free) options; and rising tuition. The dramatic decline of men and women entering religious life over the same period translated into a dramatic increase in the number of lay teachers. This in turn significantly increased costs and threatened the financial viability of many Catholic schools and forced many of them to close.
Here in Lafayette, Indiana, our Catholic Schools have had a similar history. The following is an abbreviated timeline of the history of our Catholic Schools in Greater Lafayette:
- 1850’s – St. Martha and Mary School, led by the Sisters of Providence, opened (photo to the right)
- 1856 – St. Boniface School opened
- 1896 – St. Lawrence School opened
- 1956 – First Lay teacher hired
- 1957 – Central Catholic constructed for $2.1 Million (>$17M in today’s $)
- 1990 – Central Catholic closed due to declining enrollment and financial issue
- 1990 – Central Catholic reopened after significant community support.
- Uniforms required
- Tuition Assistance Fund started
- Reaffirmed Catholic Identity
- 1991 – Business Office consolidated for all four schools; “Lafayette Catholic School System” was formed
- 1993 – A governance structure was established for the Lafayette Catholic School System
- 2009 – LCSS Enrollment starts to grow again
- 2011 – Indiana passes School Choice legislation which creates School Choice Scholarships
- 2012 – LCSS amends its constitution and governance structure and adds an “Executive Director” to oversee operations
- 2014 – LCSS has 952 students and a $6.1 million annual budget
This is a fascinating history that shows the true resilience of our Catholic Schools here in Lafayette. While there was certainly a decline in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, things leveled off in the mid 1980’s, and once a new governance structure was established, financial stresses were reduced.
Once again, after four decades of a flat growth outlook, we are growing. The Lafayette Catholic School System has added over 100 students since 2010 (as shown in the chart below).
Our growth is expected to continue as the Church puts a renewed emphasis on the value of Catholic education, and more options than ever are offered to families to help pay the cost of tuition. With this growth comes both opportunity and challenge. To prepare for this opportunity, the LCSS Board of Trustees and Board of Directors, along with the Principals from all four of our schools, met for a full day retreat to outline the parameters of a new Master Plan for Growth for the Lafayette Catholic School System. This group of over 30 individuals met first on June 9th, 2014. At this first retreat the following student capacity analysis was shared:
- St. Mary near 100% capacity
- St. Boniface @ 80% capacity
- St. Lawrence near 100% capacity
- Central Catholic @ 80% capacity
The group then evaluated local demographic data, parish data, and trends in both Catholic and public schools. We also discussed our current infrastructure and our many options for the growth. The group concurred on the following summary findings:
- We are a diocesan school system that primarily serves our six local parishes and their families (95% of current LCSS students are from our parishes).
- Our schools should (at a minimum) serve a student population that is representative of our local Catholic community in terms of ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity.
- Our schools need to work to increase our service and outreach to our parishes and community.
- Demand for high quality Catholic (virtues-based) education is increasing.
- The area’s public and private schools are strong and there is increased pressure to offer high quality programming, excellent teachers, and great facilities.
- Much of our existing infrastructure in K-6 is in desperate need of updating and expansion: classroom sizes are not optimal, space is limited, and facilities are not competitive with other local offerings.
- Central Catholic should continue its efforts to update its facilities.
With these findings we set the following goal:
Goal: A 10 year “business plan” summary and physical facilities master plan will be developed for LCSS that plans for growth and expansion consistent with the conclusions and discussions from the retreat.
- The plan must be a flexible plan that can adapt to changing needs of the school system.
- The system should always keep a close connection to parishes to preserve parish life.
- The plan should attempt to retire or update decaying infrastructure.
- The plan should strongly consider an investment in early childhood education and infrastructure.
- The planning efforts should be done in close cooperation with our parishes’ master planning efforts.
- New or updated infrastructure must be representative of “Excellence” & support contemporary classroom needs.
Our efforts will continue throughout this year. Our next planning session will be held in January, and our hope is to release an updated Master Plan in September of 2015. These are exciting times. I will leave you with a thought from Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
“. . . we Catholic educators need to be bold in our thinking and daring in our actions as we look to the future.”