Catholic School Matters

January 27, 2019

Catholic Schools Week

If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t go to yours. Yogi Berra


Robert Putnam used the above quote to illustrate his point about the importance of reciprocal social connections in Bowling Alone, his 2001 work on the loss of community in America and the need to re-establish belongingness. He highlights the loss of social groups such as bowling leagues and argues that now we’re all bowling alone. We all need community and our schools are at their best when we are establishing community for our students and parents alike.


Putnam pointed to Anthony Bryk’s seminal work from the 1980s Catholic Schools and the Common Good which celebrated the great work of Catholic schools in leveraging high academic expectations with building community. Putnam pointed out that Bryk’s insights had been copied by public and charter schools alike in emphasizing socio-emotional learning, smaller schools, and servicing the whole child.


Earlier this year, I blogged about the need for school leaders to focus on excellence and not become obsessed with enrollment. Two weeks ago, I talked about the need to develop stories which testify to our values. We can’t lose sight of our need to focus on our strengths—a dual focus on academic rigor and authentic faith community.


I believe Catholic schools provide the best environment for students to come alive. At our best, we provide communities of faith committed to our students’ development. Students are known, loved, and called to be transform the world.


I have a great job which allows me to help form our Catholic educators in Montana as well as travel to visit other Catholic schools across the country. I love to visit Catholic schools. When I come into a town, I love to drive by schools and when they are session, stop in and say hello. We are a larger community, after all, and we should all feel called to visit and support our colleagues. And, after all, who doesn’t love to share our good work?


Last week I was in New York City and I was privileged to visit some fantastic schools and meet some incredible educators. At Cristo Rey New York City, for example, I heard Sr. Janice Kraft, SSC describe her teaching process. “I give my students work to show they have learned what I taught. When they can’t do their homework, I know I didn’t teach it well enough and I’ve got to try again,” she said. Read those words again. She is holding her students and herself accountable for learning. She is loving them through math homework and truly engaged in learning. That’s incredible.


Last fall I found myself in Weirton, West Virginia and decided to find a Catholic school there. When I saw Madonna High School, I jumped out of the car and rang the bell. Jamie Lesho, the dynamic principal, greeted me and took me for a tour. I love touring Catholic schools with principals, listening to what they love and how proud they are.


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Our Catholic school ethos of community—as well as academic rigor--has been copied and thus we need to emphasize our strengths and truly celebrate our Catholic schools.


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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. I'm putting together a collection of scenarios of Catholic leadership as a means to teach Catholic leaders how to develop their own moral leadership compass. I'll preview a scenario each month and ask you to submit any ideas of Catholic school leadership moral dilemmas to catholicschoolmatters@gmail.com. This month's example:
  2. When your students are on a field trip, they get caught up in the middle of a protest. When viral videos begin to circulate of your students interacting with protesters, social media protesters begin to call for expulsions and firings. Representatives of the Bishop as well as the superintendent are calling for action. Your phone is ringing off the hook and your email inbox has exploded. Parents of the students are asking you to support their students, too. How do you proceed?

American Catholic News

Catholic Schools Closing, Opening & Merging

  1. Catholic Schools in Great Falls are merging
  2. School closure plan in Archdiocese of New Orleans under fire and the Archdiocese announces two more schools to close while announcing a new school to serve those with special needs.
  3. St. Louis Catholic school slated to close

What I'm Up To

This week I celebrate Catholic Schools Week on the road chasing Bishop Warfel as he celebrates Mass at most of our schools in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. Assuming the weather holds up, that is.


On this week's podcast, I have a great podcast with three great leaders in Catholic schools. First my old friend Kent Hickey, the current president of Seattle Prep, discusses lessons learned from the Amanda Knox trial. Then I bring on two guests from the city of Bismarck, North Dakota. Bucking the national trend, the Catholic schools in Bismarck are witnessing growth. We often focus on what is wrong with our schools and the problems we need to solve. But we can gain insight from learning about what is working well. Gerald Vetter, the dynamic president of Light of Christ Catholic Schools, shares what is working well there and the progress on the brand new St. Mary's HS slated to open this fall (pictured at right). Then Mike McMahon, the Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Mary, discusses the enrollment growth through mission focus at the small Catholic university in Bismarck.


Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.


  • Monday: All-School Masses at Billings Catholic Schools & St. Charles Mission School
  • Tuesday: All-School Masses at Pretty Eagle & St. Labre
  • Wednesday: All-School Mass at Sacred Heart School (Miles City)
  • Thursday: All-School Mass at St. Mary's (Livingston) & parent meeting at Great Falls
  • Friday: All-School Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Schools (Great Falls) & meeting with Msgr. O'Neill


Miles this week: 1,346 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 21,332 road miles; 42,352 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001) by Robert D. Putnam.
  2. Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life (2014) by Nancy Tatom Ammerman
  3. Timothy O'Connell's Tend Your Own Garden: Sharing Our Core Values, Good People Make Tough Choices: Facing Everyday Value Conflicts, and Let Your Spirit Breathe: Living a Value-Based Life
  4. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (1999) by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, & Sheila Heen
  5. Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement (1992) by Thomas J. Sergiovanni

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

  • Here is the slideshow from the January 8th Virtual Admin Meeting
  • Administrator letters of intent can be found here
  • Information here on the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings Safe Environment education program for students (and deadlines)
  • We are currently looking for a principal for Holy Spirit Catholic School in Great Falls and for a president of Missoula Catholic Schools

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

January 20, 2019 "School Choice"

January 13, 2019 "What's Your Story?"

January 6, 2018 "Happy New Year"

December 2, 2018 "Building Community"

November 18, 2018 "Reframing Enrollment"

November 4, 2018 "Looking at Disaffiliation"

October 21, 2018 "Getting out of the Ditch"

October 7, 2018 "Truth, Mercy, and the Synod"

September 23, 2018 "Native American Experience"

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"