The Good Steward – Catholic schools: a blessing, not a burden

Daniel Conway

During the past 50 years, every independent research study on the effectiveness of Catholic education in the United States has shown conclusively that Catholic schools make a difference in the lives of students and families, parishes and dioceses, and businesses and local communities. Catholic schools are a recognized success, especially in their mission to transform the lives of individuals and communities.

And yet, since the 1970s, enrollments have declined and Catholic schools have been closing at an alarming rate. There are hopeful signs (post-pandemic) of an increase in enrollment — especially at the preschool and kindergarten levels — but the decades-long decline has taken a toll on the parishes, dioceses and religious communities that sponsor Catholic schools. What is the root cause of this problem, and how can it be solved?

Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation of Louisville, believes that he has answers to both the cause of the decline and the solution. Based on his own life experience — his service on the CEF board from 2006-2012 and his nine years as president of the CEF — Lechleiter summarizes the problem as the result of two things: a negative attitude and a lack of access (affordability).

When sponsoring organizations begin to view their schools as burdens rather than blessings, they are less likely to seek creative solutions to the challenges facing Catholic education today. When parents believe that there is no way they can afford to send their children to Catholic schools, they give up. 

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. When schools are recognized as the blessing they are, and when parents see that they can afford a Catholic education, miracles of hope and transformation happen.

Today, in Louisville and central Kentucky, Catholic schools are thriving. This is the result of many factors, including strong support from parishes, religious communities and the archdiocese; the excellent education provided by teachers and staff; parents who are willing to make sacrifices for their children; and donors to the Catholic Education Foundation (individuals and businesses) who recognize the importance of Catholic schools. 

Together, these individuals and organizations are making a real difference. They are changing attitudes and improving access to Catholic schools in the Louisville archdiocese.

The Catholic Education Foundation of Louisville was founded in 1995. Its first scholarships were awarded in 1999 to 220 students totaling $110,000. Now in its 28th year, the CEF provided assistance last year to an all-time high of 3,600 students for a total of $7.7 million. 

“Much hard work remains,” Lechleiter said. “CEF’s goal is to be able to help at least 5,000 students and to make sure that every family that qualifies for financial assistance receives the help it needs.”

CEF’s slogan, which addresses questions of both attitude and access, is: “The answer is Yes!” If we all believe that Catholic schools are blessings, not burdens, and if parents know that there is help available to them, the answer to the question about the future sustainability of Catholic education will be a resounding “Yes!”

Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.

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