Catholic School Matters

November 17, 2019


Last week’s USCCB meetings surfaced a few fault lines in US Catholicism which shed light on best practices in Catholic schools. To start the week, Archbishop Pierre, the Papal Nuncio, exhorted the US Bishops to embrace their communion with Papal teachings and examine the “magisterial imperative.” This is especially true related to Laudato Si as well as Amoris Laetitia. Both of these documents are often (incorrectly) derided as Pope Francis’s private thoughts but not magisterial (i.e. infallible) teachings. It’s important to note that Archbishop Pierre begs to differ and exhorts the bishops to accompany people in the spirit of Amoris Laetitia and care for our common home in the spirit of Laudato Si and recognize that those are magisterial teachings of the church.

The common themes of Francis’ papacy emerge from this letter: collegiality, collaboration, evangelization, missionary impulse, mercy, and dialogue. These are all worth considering in our schools and the best Catholic schools have embraced these imperatives. The Nuncio is reminding us all to be attentive to the message of Pope Francis.

Bishop McElroy of San Diego underscored the concept of “synodality” which has become a buzzword in Catholic circles. The meaning of synodality extends beyond meetings of bishops to recognize the voices of all baptized Catholics in areas of decision-making and governance. The Church is not a democracy, but it’s not a hierarchy either. McElroy calls it a “hierarchical communion” and I believe this understanding of church is applicable to Catholic schools who have perhaps embraced synodality better than the wider American church. After all, we see a lot of adaptation to local needs in our Catholic schools. This fall’s controversy over adopting new practices in the Amazon region point to Church leaders’ discomfort with diversity and need for standardization. But our most effective Catholic schools adopt different practices and engage in collaborative efforts with all stakeholders thereby illustrating synodality.

McElroy identified four characteristics of synodality: a missionary church, a participatory church, a welcoming church, and a church of harmony and dialogue. It’s worth quoting him on the issue of welcoming which is an issue that Catholic schools face almost every day:

“If we are to build a more welcoming church in the United State, the searing issue of judgmentalism must be faced. There is no sin that Jesus condemns in the gospels more often than that of judgmentalism. Probably, this results from Jesus’ recognition that this is a sin that virtually all of us fall into easily and frequently. It is a mystery of the human soul why men so often find satisfaction in pointing to the sins, rather than the goodness in others. It is a mystery of the human soul why we feel better about ourselves because someone else has failed.”

The sense of eliminating judgment is also rooted in McElroy’s understanding of church which originates in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium. This is the constitution which articulated the call to universal holiness and spells out the valued roles of all members of the Church. The fault lines and conflicts during the USCCB meeting serve as a great reminder about our own mission as Catholic school leaders and the need to establish Pope Francis’ priorities in our school communities.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines

In this section, I present a Catholic school controversy in the headlines. I don't mean to single out one school or criticize its leaders. I want to present the story and offer you a few questions to consider in case this controversy lands on your desk this year. I encourage you to look at the particulars of the situation to understand the intricacies of the controversy.

A high school student has claimed that her Catholic school disciplined her for being gay and there are reports that conversion therapy was recommended. How are you approaching rumors about student sexual orientation? Are parents notified? Is there discipline involved? Counseling?

American Catholic News

Latino Enrollment Institute - 2019 Promo

Catholic Schools Opening, Closing, Etc.

  1. Diocese of Richmond HS scheduled to close at the end of the year.
  2. Archdiocese of Chicago announces consolidation of 3 Catholic schools on northwest side.
  3. Youngsville (LA) new school on hold

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

This week we celebrate the ordination and installation of Bishop Austin Vetter to the Diocese of Helena. He comes to us from Bismarck, ND. With two days of events, the ceremonies will keep me in and around the office for most of the week. Pictured at right is the faculty of St. Margaret Mary (Omaha) celebrating National Cardigan Day.

This week on the Catholic School Matters podcast I welcome two guests to the podcast. First, the incomparable Dr. Frank O’Linn, the Superintendent of the Diocese of Cleveland, discusses leadership and the priorities of his Catholic schools. How to make them more irresistibly Catholic, academically excellent, and accessible to all are the three issues which are front and center. Frank’s perspective is refreshing and the conversation is rich. Then I welcome Dr. Tiffany Boury from Franciscan University who updates the progress of their new Master’s in Catholic Leadership program.

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

  • Monday: Office (Helena) to record three podcasts & evening meeting in Butte
  • Tuesday: Office (Helena) and Vespers for Bishop Vetter
  • Wednesday: Ordination & Installation of Bishop Vetter
  • Thursday: Office (Helena)
  • Friday: Office (Helena)

Miles this week: 145 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2019-20: 16,581 road miles; 24,002 air miles

Last 5 Books

    1. Standing for Reason: The University in a Dogmatic Age (2019) by John Sexton
    2. Talking to Strangers (2019) by Malcolm Gladwell

    3. Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus (2019) by Jim Wallis

    4. This Will Make You Smarter (2012) Ed. by John Brockman

    5. The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions (2006) by Sister Helen Prejean

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            For Montana Administrators & Teachers

            • Here is a link from the November 5th Virtual Admin meeting
            • Bishop Vetter's 6 pm Tuesday Vespers and 2 pm Ordination/Installation (Wed) will be livestreamed here
            • Please make plans to meet Bishop Vetter at one of his deanery visits after his installation. All prayer services will begin at 7 pm: Butte Dec 3rd at St. Patrick's, Helena Dec 5th at the Cathedral, Kalispell Dec 11th at St. Richard's, and Missoula Dec 10th at St. Anthony's. All are welcome!

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Nov 3, 2019 "Finance Best Practices"

            Oct 27, 2019 "Blaine Amendments"

            Oct 20, 2019 "Community & Belongingness"

            Oct 13, 2019 Sr. Angie's Lawlapalooze

            Oct 6, 2019 "River of Fire"

            Sep 29, 2019 "Male and Female He Created Them"

            Sep 22, 2019 "Surveying Catholic Culture"

            Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"

            Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"