Catholic School Matters

November 4, 2018

Looking at Disaffiliation

Last month at NCEA’s Catholic Leadership Summit in Jacksonville, I was privileged to hear John Vitek, the CEO of Saint Mary’s Press, about their research in Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics. I had heard about the study but was struck by Vitek’s presentation and his explanation of why young people are leaving the Catholic Church. We need to face the reality that people are leaving the Church and the effects—sacraments are down, enrollment in Catholic schools are down, and the growth of non-religious and former Catholics.

Disaffiliation is a process. People don’t wake up one day and decide that they aren’t going to be Catholic. It’s a process where step by step people wander down the journey away from the faith. When we think about affiliation, we know that people join clubs, groups, and religions by steps. So perhaps we should think about disaffiliation in the same way and try to design ways to capture people on their path to disaffiliation.

And that might cause us to rethink what it means to be considered Catholic. I think many Catholics believe that only the purest should be considered. Catholics need to meet every standard, profess every appropriate belief, and practice every practice to be considered truly Catholic. So if one believes that gay marriage is acceptable, for example, then they aren’t part of the tribe. Or if they are divorced and receive communion, they should be likewise shunned. Yet there are many good people in the faith who are trying to stand up for what they believe is right. Rather than view them as 85% affiliated/15% unaffiliated, we view them as 100% unaffiliated, which causes them to walk further down the disaffiliated path.

The implications for our schools is tremendous. Rather than measuring school’s success by measuring the number of pure Catholics it produces (e.g. vocations to the priesthood), we should view our schools as Catholic field hospitals providing a means of affiliation for Catholics that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Perhaps all we are providing is a step toward affiliation and away from disaffiliation. And isn’t that worth something?

Vitek presented two videos which voice the concerns of disaffiliated Catholics. Beatriz, an immigrant from Mexico, describes her decision to leave the Church and it sounds remarkably similar to other millenials. Lauren describes her journey away from the Church to a new identity (which she calls “Catholic-ish”). There are other stories on this page. These stories are a great way to listen and try to understand young people.

Wait? Where have we heard that before? Try the final document of the Bishop’s Synod on Young People (you can find a translated unofficial version here). The final document uses the Emmaus Story to illustrate the challenge to the church to walk with our young people.

Along those lines, read this great article from Fr. Joe Corpora about the Joy of Missing Out. He incorporates accompaniment, prayer, and a fresh perspective for young people. And I also recommend Dr. Kevin Baxter’s latest blog entitled “Contemplating Loss” which is a great reflection on community and also gives practical advice on how to approach the leadership crisis which is affecting us all.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. Dr. Anders Ericsson, the co-author of Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise (2016) is trying to come on the podcast in November. The book outlines "deliberate practice" and we'll explore its application to Catholic schools. We'll be discussing the book (with or without him!) on the November 21st podcast. If you'd like to participate, pick up the book, read it, and then submit questions to It's time to start the next book in preparation for Catholic Schools Week. Timothy Walch's Parish School can be ordered through the NCEA website. It's a great history book and we'll discuss in January.
  2. 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 This month's example:

  • You receive a call on Sunday afternoon from your art teacher. The 32 year old married mother of two reports that she was picked up for DUI after a dinner party the night before. She has been teaching at your high school for five years, is not a member of the parish, and is willing to submit to a substance abuse evaluation. She is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her job. Your diocesan policy lists crimes and negative publicity as reasons for termination. You are not sure whether the information will become public although she did say that one of the high school parents was an arresting officer.

American Catholic News

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

While I was in Jacksonville for the CLS, I was able to record three great podcasts. I was able to visit Guardian Catholic School, a super little Catholic school serving the underserved in Jacksonville which also is featured on the front cover of the latest edition of Momentum. That podcast will air in January. I was also able to interview three new superintendents (Sam Torres of San Bernardino, Janet Eaton of Wichita, and Deb Haney from Houston) and that interview will air later this month. This Wednesday I'll air my conversation with a panel of veteran superintendents (Bill Crist of Syracuse (right), Kim Pryzbyski of Miami, David Faber from Grand Rapids, Daryl Hagan of Evansville, and Melanie Verges of Baton Rouge). It's a great chance to hear from leaders in Catholic education talking about the challenges and opportunities for our Catholic schools. I'll also be joined by Sandra Leatherwood of Charleston who will discuss the hurrican damage and her take on the current crisis in the Church.

This week I'm heading to Franciscan University in Steubenville to learn about their great programs and will conduct my Virtual Admin meetings on Thursday while recording a podcast with the incomparable Jess Lahey for an upcoming podcast about teen addiction. I'll also be participating in the ACE Reform PLC--the yearlong study of school choice in Catholic schools. Later this week I'll be heading to Baltimore for the annual USCCB meeting.

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.

  • Sunday: Travel to Franciscan University
  • Monday: Visit to Franciscan University
  • Tuesday: return to Helena
  • Wednesday: Chancery meeting, ACE Reform PLC & Catholic School Matters Radio Hour with new superintendent panel & veteran superintendent panel
  • Thursday: Monthly Virtual Admin Meetings
  • Friday: Office (Helena)
  • Saturday: Travel to Baltimore

Miles next 2 weeks: 388 driving miles; 8,270 air miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 16,655 road miles; 21,227 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (2015) by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen
  2. Using Conflict Theory (2002) by Otomar J. Bartos & Paul Wehr
  3. Leadership Can Be Taught (2005) by Sharon Daloz Parks
  4. Principles for a Catholic Morality (rev. ed, 1990) by Timothy O'Connell
  5. Parish School: A History of American Cathoilc Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (2016) by Timothy Walch

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

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?"