Friday, May 11, 1990 would forever change the future of Central Catholic and the Lafayette Catholic School System. I was a student in the 7th grade at Central Catholic Jr./Sr. High School. During 7th hour, Sister Ann Kathleen Magiera, OSF interrupted class with an announcement over the PA. She told teachers to report to the library and students to go to the gymnasium. It was an unexpected break in the day and I recall acting like myself, an immature 7th grader, on the walk to the gym.
The 1990 Lance yearbook wrote, “Entering the gymnasium, the students caught sight of the six pastors standing in front of the bleachers. No one had any clue of the news they were about to hear. As the students were settled into their seats, Father Chuck from St. Boniface, a man most of us had never before laid sight on, lead the student body in prayer. He then made the statement that the doors of Central Catholic would not reopen for the 1990-91 school year.” The decision to close Central Catholic was made by the six pastors, as a result of financial issues and declining enrollment. Rev. Thomas E. Fox of St. Ann’s Church was quoted in the newspaper,“The grade schools need greater parish support to keep tuition down, the bus system is struggling to make it through this school year and inflation is increasing about 6 percent a year.” The bottom line was, there were not enough resources to keep the doors open and tuition could not be raised to a level to cover the costs.
The announcement brought a flood of emotions: students were crying, some screamed, some walked out of the room, some laughed. Everyone was in a state of shock. I recall walking out the school doors that day and it did not feel the same as usual. As shocking and amazingly difficult that day was, looking back from my current position, it was probably the most pivotal event in the Lafayette Catholic School System history. Over the weekend, students were organizing demonstrations, school leaders were getting organized, petitions were started, parents became fully engaged, parishioners stopped their Sunday church donations, and you could feel this was just the beginning of a battle to keep the school open. On Monday morning, we did not report to class. Instead, the entire student body and many teachers, administrators and parents walked up 9th street to the Bishop’s home on Lingle Avenue. We prayed the rosary together and offered petitions to the Lord. The entire Lafayette Catholic School System community had a sense of purpose.
“We need to be BOLD in our thinking and DARING in our actions.” – Cardinal Dolan
The closure of Central Catholic engaged many in the Catholic Community. No one took for granted what had been taken away. I have heard many amazing stories about students going door-to-door seeking donations, one-on-one meetings where individuals, families, and businesses made large cash donations, and prayer circles involving hundreds. So many people rose to the occasion because of their love for Central Catholic and the value they placed on catholic education. This was also the start of a strategic plan to create a more sustainable financial model for the school system. St. Boniface, St. Lawrence and St. Mary’s parishes started the Tuition Assistance Endowment Fund, a group of community volunteers kicked-off One-in-the-Spirit (school system bi-annual operations fund), and few years later, volunteers started the Blue Knight Auction for tuition assistance.
“Where there is no vision, the people will perish.” – Proverbs 29:18
25-years later, the school system is in a much different financial position, but similar struggles continue. The price of tuition does not cover the entire cost to educate a student, 50% of our students receive some form of financial aid, and we have aging infrastructure at all four campuses. Our teachers are the number one contributors to our system, earning 70% of their public school peers, and staff continue to do more with less. In spite of this, there is still a meaningful purpose to continue moving forward. In 2013, parents and supporters embarked on a nine month long effort to develop a three year strategic plan for the school system to build upon the 150 years of Roman Catholic educational ministry and continue to serve God into the third millennium. Over the last ten months, we have been working on Vision 2030 (COMING THIS FALL!) to address our aging infrastructure, enrollment, teacher pay, and staffing issues across the entire school system. If we want to continue moving the needle for the Lafayette Catholic School System it is going to take the same kind of prayer, engagement, commitment and purpose the community had 25 years ago. I am humbled every day by the passion of countless people who bleed Central Catholic and the Lafayette Catholic School System. I am grateful to be a part of the future.
“We’re only kids but we have to act” – Elizabeth Jane (Cox) Hull ’91