Last summer the Archdiocese of San Antonio created the Good Shepherd Network of Catholic Schools. This was in response to a troubling trend experienced throughout the country affecting urban Catholic schools. The trend involves escalating costs to run the schools and decreasing enrollment (and thus less revenue). One need not be an accountant or economist to realize this trend is unsustainable.
Consequently, many Catholic schools located in urban areas across the United States have had to close. It is always sad when any Catholic school closes, but it is especially troubling when these schools are located in areas that most need quality schools, that is, in economically challenged neighborhoods.
Archbishop José Gomez and I had spoken about this reality in San Antonio. I expressed to him that we needed to explore different governing models for urban schools, so that it not be the sole responsibility of parishes (usually in difficult economic situations themselves) to sustain these schools. He then asked me to work with the superintendent of Catholic Schools to study possibilities for sustaining a viable presence of Catholic education in these parts of San Antonio. Our superintendent, Patricia Davis, had been studying new governance models for Catholic schools that have arisen across the United States.
Realizing these models could not be applied to San Antonio in a “cookie cutter” fashion, she adapted some of the principles employed in those models and proposed a plan for our schools here in San Antonio. Ultimately, a fresh, new model was created, one that I believe is right for San Antonio and our communities.
Historically, most of our Catholic schools have been parochial schools. Parochial schools are ministries of the parish. These schools are an outreach to the community, to evangelize, to catechize and to educate members of the church and citizens of the wider community. Parochial schools are under the governance, care and spiritual leadership of the pastor. Thus, the pastor is ultimately responsible for the school and hires the principal to carry out the day to day operations of the school.
Model of the Good Shepherd Network
The Good Shepherd Network was named so because it began out of a special concern of our diocesan shepherd for the families in our poorer parishes. The Good Shepherd Network of Catholic Schools now includes 10 campuses: St. Mary Magdalen, St. Paul, St. James the Apostle, St. John Berchmans, St. Philip of Jesus, St. Leo the Great, St. Cecilia, Holy Name, St. Margaret Mary, and St. Gerard Catholic High School. (St. Benedict Parish is studying the possibility of providing an early childhood center as part of the network.) These campuses are now under the governance and responsibility of a board of directors made up of business persons from the wider community, pastors, the superintendent and myself. Pastors continue to provide the spiritual leadership on the campuses.
The goals of the network are: to strengthen the Catholic identity of our schools, to streamline finances, to share resources, to verify excellence in academics and to provide resources for parents. Streamlining finances and sharing resources allows the campuses to remain viable, while the strengthening of Catholic identity, academics and family resources provides a path for growth into the future.
The long-term goal is to maintain Catholic education in economically challenged parts of our city. We do this as an immediate response for the good of our families who seek a Catholic education for their children. On a larger scale, we contribute to the good of our city and wider society. How? Catholic schools have a 97 percent graduate rate. Part of our wider goal is to create a cradle-to-college culture in our families and communities, with the help of the Good Shepherd Network of Catholic Schools. While the practice of our Catholic faith permeates the campus, culture and curriculum, students who are not Catholic are welcome to apply to our schools, as well. They, too, can benefit from the excellent education and the Christian values.
Beginning something new is never easy. There are always hurdles to overcome, unforeseen challenges — but good minds, hard work and God’s grace always provide a path forward.
Lastly, I would like to thank our Hope for the Future office, which has grown its task of raising funds to provide Catholic school scholarships for deserving families. We are indeed investing in the future of our church and the future of our society.
May God continue to bless our Good Shepherd Network of Catholic Schools, and indeed, all our Catholic schools!