Philadelphia Breaks New Ground on Managing Catholic Schools

By Filteau, Jerry | National Catholic Reporter, September 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Philadelphia Breaks New Ground on Managing Catholic Schools


Filteau, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter


In a major break from traditional Catholic school models, the Philadelphia archdiocese has turned over management of its high schools and special-needs elementary schools to a lay-run private foundation for at least the next five years.

The move, which does not change the Catholic character of the schools, affects some 16,000 students in the archdiocese.

Several commentators described the decision as a groundbreaking one that could affect Catholic elementary and secondary education across the nation within the next few years.

Charles Zech, founder and head of Philadelphia-based Villanova University's Center for the Study of Church Management, described the archdiocese's move as "an innovative approach to a problem that has the potential to drag every U.S. diocese down financially."

"Every diocese in the country is hurting" because of the growing cost of Catholic elementary and secondary education, he told NCR.

"The costs of providing Catholic education, especially at the high school level--teacher's salaries, benefits, maintenance on old buildings, the need to have cutting-edge technology, etc.--are far outpacing parents' ability to pay tuition and a diocese's ability to subsidize school costs," he said. "Similar concerns are on the horizon for parochial grade schools."

"It's clear that something has to be done," he added, "and every diocese in the country should be watching this closely" to see if it succeeds and might serve as a model.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput announced the change at a news conference Aug. 21. He said effective Sept. 1, the recently formed Faith in the Future Foundation would take over management of all 17 Catholic high schools of the archdiocese and four schools that serve children with special needs.

He made the announcement at St. Hubert Catholic High School, which had been slated for closure before new fundraising efforts brought a reversal of that decision. During the news conference, the archbishop signed the initial five-year management agreement with H. Edward Hanway, former chairman and CEO of Cigna and founder of Faith in the Future.

The new agreement "is unlike any agreement that a diocese has achieved with its lay leadership," Chaput said.

He said the shift of operational and strategic control to a predominantly lay board will "change the organizational structure for Catholic education, not its mission."

Hanway was a member of an archdiocesan blue-ribbon commission that in 2011 recommended closure or merger of a number of elementary schools in the archdiocese as well as the closing of four high schools. The commission later recommended forming a foundation to advance the role of Catholic education in the archdiocese, and Hanway was charged with heading the project.

By July 1, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the new foundation had already raised $15 million of its $100 million goal.

Hanway will serve as chairman of Faith in the Future's executive board of education and will serve as interim CEO of the foundation until a new CEO is hired.

The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education will continue to focus on curriculum and standards; academic and spiritual development of students; co-curricular and extracurricular programming; and professional development of teachers. Under the new agreement, however, it will be an agency of the new foundation and will report chiefly to it.

The presidents and principals of the schools affected by the agreement will continue to report to the education office, and the teachers remain employees of the archdiocese.

Direct ownership of the schools themselves will remain with the archdiocese, with the exception of Roman Catholic High School. The school is operated by the archdiocese but the building continues to be owned by the Cahill Trust, established under the will of its founder, Thomas Cahill, who died in 1878. …

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