On Tuesday, July 9, through Friday, July 12, I had the privilege of attending a conference for pastors of Catholic parochial schools. The conference was held at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was sponsored by the Alliance for Catholic Education (better known as ACE) and Notre Dame University. The Diocese of Austin invited me to go and offered to pay my way. Although I have been pastor of several parishes in different parts of the country (Clemson, SC; New York City; San Francisco, CA), I have never before been pastor of a parish with a school, so I agreed to go, and I am glad I did.
There were 110 pastors attending representing 47 different dioceses in the country. The only other priest from our diocese was Fr. John Guzaldo, pastor of St. Louis Church in Waco. It was a very nice group of guys.
Notre Dame is a very pretty campus, though I found it confusing to negotiate. I was surprised by how many people were on the campus. ND has a plethora of summer programs: for principals, teachers, school superintendants, athletes, and a “Summer Scholars” program for exceptional high-school students from all across the country. We all ate together and, at one lunch I sat next to a high school student from Singapore. He was at ND for two weeks for the Sumer Scholars program and then going back to high school in Singapore. So there were participants from all over the world.
The program I was attending was well done. We had an opening presentation from Bishop John Barres of Allentown, PA. He is one of the many bishops now who are younger than me, something I still find hard to get used to. He has his MBA in Management from NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. He spoke to us about the Diocese of Allentown marketing plan and their business plan for diocesan schools. He told us “Our mission is Catholic. Our business is education.” He presented some “out-of-the-box” ideas about fund raising and tuition that I will share with our St. Austin School Advisory Board.
Other presentations included the Pastor as Spiritual Leader of the School, the School as a Ministry of the Parish, of course several on financing and tuition, the Pastor-Principal Relationship (presented by a pastor and principal team), and a very interesting presentation on tax credits, vouchers and what is happening nationally. Out of these I got several practical suggestions and some ideas to consider.
Of course there was plenty of time for socials and relaxing. A lot of the benefit was just pastors sharing with each other their successes and failures. On the final evening we had a lovely outdoor Mass at the Grotto, a replica of the cave where Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to Bernadette. The ACE teachers joined us, and those graduating were honored.
It was a worthwhile four days and a good experience. I hope I can do a better job as pastor of a Catholic school.