It’s too early for the exact where and when, but a report on the future of Catholic schools in western Oregon has identified areas where it may make sense to expand. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Sources: Claritas and Association of Religious Data Archive, Archdiocese of Portland sacrament records, State of Oregon demographic forecast
It’s too early for the exact where and when, but a report on the future of Catholic schools in western Oregon has identified areas where it may make sense to expand. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel) Sources: Claritas and Association of Religious Data Archive, Archdiocese of Portland sacrament records, State of Oregon demographic forecast
A strategic plan for the future of Catholic schools in western Oregon is moving from ideas to action. But the process will go deliberately.

Implementing the plan is expected to take three to five years, said Holy Cross Brother William Dygert, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Portland.

“We are on track,” said Brother William. “There is no crisis with the schools. We are in good shape. We want to stay that way.”

The archdiocese is home to 40 elementary schools and 10 high schools that educate a total of about 15,000 students.

The study found that most Catholic schools in the archdiocese are full, or close to it. But Brother William doesn’t want anyone to get complacent.

“If you want to grow, you need to work at it,” he said. “It doesn’t happen by wishing.”

After two years of discernment and research, the archdiocese released its strategic plan last spring, calling for expansion, outreach and increased financial aid.

“The archdiocese has determined that Catholic education is a primary mission,” said David Brands, a member of All Saints Parish who helped with the plan. “You could not have said that five years ago.”

Expansion expected

Catholic school enrollment in western Oregon has been stable for the past decade. Researchers predict that with population growth, enrollment should grow, though not spike. Many newcomers to Oregon are singles who are not Catholic.

The plan avoids school closures or mergers. Recommendations suggest additional schools in the growing Portland area, especially in the Scholls Ferry Road corridor of Washington County and Happy Valley in Clackamas County. Salem and Medford are on the list of possible expansion sites. Coastal Catholics want a Catholic school, and the report suggests one way is to combine many ages of students in a single institution.

Brand said it’s too early to know specific places and numbers, but it’s clear that the church will need to provide more classrooms, whether that means new schools, additions to current schools or reopening schools that have closed.

Reaching more students

The plan calls for “aggressive marketing.” Leaders want more Catholic families to realize Catholic school is an option. Now, only about 15 percent of children who go through sacraments in parishes attend Catholic schools.

In 2010, there were more than 5,400 infant baptisms in the archdiocese. By 2014, only 749 of those youngsters had enrolled in Catholic school kindergarten.

In 2016, almost 4,800 children in the Archdiocese of Portland received first Communion. But only 758 of them were enrolled that year in Catholic schools for second grade.

The document calls for a special welcome for students from local ethnic communities. A campaign to gather tuition funds for Zomi children from Myanmar already is underway.

The archdiocese has had success increasing the welcome for children with learning challenges or even developmental disabilities like Down syndrome. Students with special needs in Catholic grade schools and high schools now number about 1,900. That’s double from 2010 levels. But the plan challenges schools to be innovative and increase access even more.

More aid

Under the plan, tuition will not drop. It’s actually likely to rise to meet the true cost of the education and keep teacher pay competitive. But the document calls for financial aid to keep pace with cost increases and recommends that fees and other separate costs be rolled into tuition.

Parishes with schools are called to devote at least 20 percent of offertory income to the schools.

Alongside the plan, the new Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon is working to find donors to invest in Catholic schools, helping more middle- and low-income families afford tuition.

“During the course of this planning process, I have often said that no Catholic child in the Archdiocese of Portland should ever be denied the opportunity to go to a Catholic school because the family can’t afford it,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said in a letter introducing the report.

Brands, chairman of the foundation, said the fund will lift some of the tuition burden from schools so they can focus on boosting academic excellence and faith formation.

Holding fast to identity

The plan started with a strong statement on mission: “Catholic schools will have a clear Catholic identity, making missionary disciples of Christ among the emerging generation and transforming the world.” The document says early on, “Students will learn to be service minded and embrace Catholic social teachings” and declares that Catholic schools are to be “academically excellent,” preparing students spiritually, intellectually, morally and physically.

Faith formation and leadership development for pastors, principals, teachers and parents are emphasized in the plan.

Goals include clarifying the relationship of schools and parishes and inviting families to be part of the school’s faith life. Parishes are to have monthly Sunday Masses that focus on inviting families to consider Catholic education.

edl@catholicsentinel.org



Learn more

A link to an executive summary is available online at archdpdx.org on the Catholic schools office page.