“My staff doesn’t work here for the money. They are here because of the kids,” Haidee Todora, the principal of St. Catherine School in Port Arthur, TX, told us during our visit.
Catholic Extension recently had the chance to visit the diocese of Beaumont, to learn more about the impact our Catholic Schools Sustainability Initiative is having on the Catholic schools in the diocese.
Haidee Todora, Principal of St. Catherine School, Port Arthur
This initiative gives dioceses the opportunity to participate in Catholic School Management’s (CSM) four year strategic planning and consulting process. In that time, consultants meet with the schools every six weeks, to establish and follow through on a plan that covers all aspects of the school, including school board governance, enrollment, development, communications and marketing. In the 39 years that they have been in business, CSM has worked with over 3,000 Catholic schools across the country. In that time, only 13 of those schools have closed.
We knew of CSM’s track record; but we wanted to hear stories from the people directly impacted by this initiative. When we sat down and talked with parents and faculty at St. Catherine in Port Arthur, we did just that.
Port Arthur is a small city of about 50,000 people; it is located 90 miles east of Houston, along the Gulf of Mexico, very close to the Louisiana border. Port Arthur was once a thriving city because of the oil refinery; but the change in the economy has left the area with a high unemployment rate. There used to be 13 Catholic schools in the area, and now there is only one remaining: St. Catherine.
Fr. David Placette, the pastor of St. Catherine, said that he was one of 26 boys from his (now closed) Catholic school who pursued the priesthood; he feels this high number was due to the Catholic environment. “Now with all of those schools closed”, he asked, “where will vocations come from?”
More than 60% of the 8,000 square miles of the diocese offers no Catholic school education. Some people see a correlation between the decline in the number of Catholic schools and the decline in registered Catholics. This shows the urgency of helping St. Catherine and the other four remaining schools in the diocese remain strong and viable. According to Bob, who helps with the finances at the school, “Catholic education brings with it the teachings of good ethics, values, and encouragement to be a good role model and leader in the community and to others.”
Gloria, a parent of two children who have attended St. Catherine, went even further when she told us: “St. Catherine’s has become my family.” Though she was not raised Catholic, she decided to look into St. Catherine because her son who has some learning disabilities was struggling at the public school. Not only did St. Catherine welcome Gloria and her family, but her children have thrived and are considered role models to other students. “My kids are better because of St. Catherine and I’m a better mother and person too.”
Gloria, mother of two children from St. Catherine
We heard similar stories the next morning at St. Anne School in Beaumont. Every morning, before the school day begins, all the students from PreK to grade 8 gather for prayer. We visited on “Celebration Tuesday”; every week the students have the chance to share with everyone the good news of achievements or special things that have happened to them outside of school. “I realized that the children were involved in all sorts of things outside of school and didn’t have the chance to tell everyone about it”, said Amy Delgado, the principal. It’s that kind of value placed on each child that makes Catholic education special.
Before CSM began working with St. Anne school three years ago, the school’s enrollment was declining. Now that trend has been turned around. The parents have noticed a difference in the administration since CSM has been working with the school, particularly in the areas of fundraising, marketing, and curriculum efforts. Heather, a school board member and a parent of children at the school, said they realized they needed to remind all Catholics in the area that regardless of whether they have children, or have children at the Catholic school, Catholic schools help strengthen the overall church and help build the faith. “We are a community of faith. We all need to take a part in building the Kingdom of God and help in service.”
The generous donors at Catholic Extension who are supporting this initiative know this. They are investing in the future of these children whom they will never meet. But their impact will be felt for generations to come.