Catholic School Matters

March 4, 2018

Bishop McNamara Leads the Way

For decades, Catholic schools have seen dropping enrollments in the face of demographic challenges—namely, smaller Catholic families and shifting populations. When confronted with new realities, some schools double down on their past practices (looking for a new group of teaching sisters, for example, or making more presentations at their parish Masses). Often, those efforts fail and those schools fade into obscurity. Others look to shift their paradigm and serve new populations. Serving new populations, however, necessitates adapting your program(s).

Among the many Catholic schools in the Washington, DC area, Bishop McNamara High School stands out as a school which has nimbly adapted to their new reality. Opened in 1964 in suburban Prince George’s County, the school was staffed by Brothers of the Holy Cross and served an all-male, mostly Catholic, mostly middle class white population. Founded as an integrated school during a time when there were still segregated school s in Prince George’s County, there were protests of Bishop McNamara’s integrated practices.

Now the school sits next to a closed Catholic elementary school and has no Holy Cross brothers on staff. Its population is mostly African-American but incredibly diverse—working class, middle class, and affluent. Catholic and non-Catholic. The school is full, the students are successful, a vibrant and success-oriented environment permeates.

How did the shift occur? On my tour of the school, one factor stood out. The stage had been transformed into a dance studio and the African drum & dance class was taking place. Serving as a fine arts credit (and a co-curricular activity), the students enthusiastically drummed and danced in front of an equally energetic African-American teacher. My completely amateur video can be seen here.

Perhaps the brothers in 1964 could have imagined this new reality. Becoming a diverse school was not something they undertook as a program to supplement their enrollment. They embraced what becoming a more diverse school would mean and have privileged cultural expressions of their African-American students.

Against the backdrop of Bishop George Murry’s presentation to the American bishops in Baltimore (the very same day in Baltimore) on the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism whose message was that racism needs to be confronted publicly and all cultural expressions within and without the church need to be celebrated, Bishop McNamara serves as a reminder that “becoming diverse” is more than lip service or offering enrollment slots. It’s an embrace of diverse cultural identities with the knowledge that diversity will change us from our predominantly white paradigms into something richer and more genuinely inclusive.

I can’t help but think of the similarities to the movement toward more academically inclusive environments within Catholic schools. As we open our programs to serve more students with diverse academic, emotional, and physical needs we need to understand how those programs will transform our schools away from the middle- and upper-class predominantly white college prep programs. If we heed the call to “open wide the doors” we need to commit to the changes that will follow.

Bishop McNamara serves as a reminder that these changes will bring a more rich and vibrant school environment. Listen to Bishop Murry tomorrow on the Catholic School Matters podcast discuss the Bishops' efforts to eradicate racism.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

What I'm Up To

After 5 weeks of spotlighting turnaround and new Catholic schools, I'm returning to my once a week conversation podcasts. These are a little longer but go into a little more depth. I'm leading off with Bishop George Murry, the chairman of the Bishop's Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. We'll talk about the committee and the evils of racism, among other things. Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. 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.

This week, I'm concluding my WCEA Accreditation travels with an ISL visit to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Albuquerque which will last until Thursday. Then I'll return home and get caught up on Friday!

  • Monday: Travel to Albuquerque; Podcast #119: Bishop George Murry conversation
  • Tuesday: WCEA visit to St. Thomas Aquinas, Day 1
  • Wednesday: WCEA visit, Day 2; Wed book blog: Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service (2011) by The Disney Institute & Theodore Kinni
  • Thursday: WCEA visit, Day 3 & return to Helena
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 265 driving miles; 2,162 air miles

Miles travelled in 2017-18: 18,316 road miles; 29,400 air miles

American Catholic News

Catholic School News

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning



What I'm Reading

  1. Lost Classroom, Lost Community (2014) by Margaret F. Brinig & Nicole Stelle Garnett
  2. Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong (1989) BY Carl E. Larson & Frank M. J. LaFasto
  3. Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994) by Ronald A. Heifetz
  4. Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today (2017) by Eric C. Sheninger & Thomas C. Murray
  5. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town (2017) by Brian Alexander

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

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

  • The USCCB and NCEA have come up with a great FAQ for 529 plans. This should be included in parish bulletins!
  • Here is the slideshow for the March 6th Virtual Meeting. Please read Chapter 8 "Reflection" of Redeeming Administration and prepare to share about your faith formation efforts
  • We now have 3 open administrative positions: President of Missoula Catholic Schools, principal of Butte Central High School, and principal of St. Jude Thaddeus School (Havre)

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

February 25, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 3"

February 18, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 2"

February 11, 2018 "New Catholic Schools"

February 4, 2018 "Turnaround Schools, Part 2"

January 28, 2018 "Turnaround Schools"

January 21, 2018 "Synthesizing Church Documents"

January 14, 2018 "What's Brewing in Milwaukee"

January 7, 2018 The 411 on 529's

December 17, 2017 Best of the Fall Issue

December 10, 2017 Serving Hispanic Catholics

December 3, 2017 Building Culture the ND Way

November 12, 2017 "How Are We Building Relationships?"

November 5, 2017 "Journal of Catholic Education"

October 29, 2017 Church Documents

October 22, 2017 Momentum Special Issue

October 15, 2017 "Anthem Protests"

October 8, 2017 Classroom Managment Special Issue

October 1, 2017 "The Un-Themed Issue"

September 24, 2017 "Joy of the Gospel"

September 17, 2017 "ESSA"

September 10, 2017 "On Leadership"

August 27, 2017 "American Catholic News"

August 20, 2017 Back to School Issue