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Many parochial schools merging to cut costs

Published Oct. 16, 2005

About a dozen Roman Catholic parishes in downtown Milwaukee pooledresources to form a centralized school system with four campuses. Also, on the city's south side, plans are mapped to link 42 parochial schools into a regional system, with a joint board, budget and shared facilities and staff.

The aim is both to combine resources to strengthen the schools and effect economies through interparish distribution of costs, said the the Rev. Ralph C. Gross, chancellor of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

"We're trying to take some of the school pressure off individual parishes so they can be more fruitful, worshiping communities," he added.

Such changes in many cities signal a gradual but far-reaching

transformation in the church's patterns for educating the young.

Under strains of financing and personnel, the single-parish parochial school is fading before the larger cooperative enterprises, but with special efforts to preserve an intimate atmosphere and close ties with parents.

"All sorts of new patterns are emerging," said Sister Catherine T. McNamee, president of the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington She said the "restructuring of schools," including consolidations, mergers for different grade levels and other collaborative configurations have come as populations shifted among city areas and to suburbs.

However, the combinations seek to maintain a basis in geographical

proximity, she said, such as urban ethnic parishes a few blocks apart, of French, Polish and Italian origins for example, forming a joint school.

"Now they've combined for the whole neighborhood," she said.

Various difficulties have cut Catholicism's elementary and secondary schools in half over the last quarter century, reducing 5.6-million students in 12,300 schools in 1965 to 2.6-million students in 8,800 schools now.

But despite continuing problems, including added expenses of lay teachers that pervasively have replaced the once low-cost but now scarce teaching sisters, the school shrinkage seems abated.

"It's pretty much stabilized," Sister McNamee said, noting that some enrollments are edging back up, expanding rapidly in the lower grades. "We're holding up fairly well now."

Similar comments came from several dioceses, where checks found many of them consolidating former single-parish schools. Past decline "is tapering off," said the Rev. George Norton of the Rochester, N.Y., diocese.

Realignments connecting some schools or prospects of it were reported in St. Louis; Baltimore; Green Bay, Wis., Newark, N.J., Cleveland and Brooklyn, among others.

The church's huge outlay for schools for the nation's young parallels the efforts of public schools but with one glaring difference - no help from community taxes.

Sister McNamee pointed out that families of children going to Catholic schools pay full taxes for public schools "but get no benefit from it" or any relief in maintaining the alternative system.

Baptist-Catholic marriage guide Religious News Service

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In what may be a first in the nation, an ecumenical group of Catholics and Southern Baptists here has proposed a set of guidelines for marriages between members of the two denominations.

The Rev. George Kilcourse, a Catholic professor of theology at Bellarmine College, said that although there have been "generic guidelines" for interchurch marriages in the past, the new proposal is "the first time that we have ever dealt with the Baptists this specifically on questions like this."

Catholics and Baptists each account for about one-third of the Louisville area's population. A 1983 survey sponsored by the Office of Ecumenical Affairs of the Louisville Archdiocese found that about half of the Catholic marriages in the area involved a partner from another denomination, and about half of those marriages were with Southern Baptists.

Father Kilcourse, co-chairman of the ecumenical group, believes that the most significant of the guidelines may be a call for marriage workshops for the couples six months and 18 months after the wedding.

On thorny questions like birth control and baptism, the guidelines take no firm stand but say the teaching of both churches should be understood by both spouses.