Catholic School Matters

September 16, 2018

How are We Forming Leaders?

I know that the current abuse/leadership crisis is sucking all the oxygen out of the room. If you want to learn more, I recommend this podcast, these resources from Bishop Barron, and this reflection from Archbishop Gomez. But we need to turn our attention to issues and events surrounding Catholic schools in order to improve our professional practice.

As I mention below in the monthly book club section, I’ve become interested in deliberate practice which has changed my thinking about how we train and form our leaders. The reason is simple—issues and controversies emerge in Catholic education and we don’t learn from them. Why not? First, often our leaders simply punt tough questions to superintendents, pastors, and bishops. Leaders see themselves as policy enforcers and compliance experts, not moral leaders of their communities. Second, during and after the controversies, there is no transparency and accountability. Those involved don’t share the struggles and lessons. There’s no postmortem for us all to learn from often because lawyers tell them to remain silent. In public education, for example, there would be more public accounting.

So the cycle continues—leaders are not shaped by past controversies because people are silent. And then they feel unprepared and thus simply default decision-making authority to their superiors. Here are a few controversies which emerged over the summer:

1. In Indianapolis, a guidance counselor at a Catholic high school was placed on paid leave after it was discovered she had married her partner.

2. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, an African-American student was removed for violating the school’s hair policy. She sued the Archdiocese and now the Archdiocese has pledged to adopt a newer culturally-sensitive hair policy.

3. The School Board at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School outside Pittsburgh voted to removed the “Cardinal Wuerl” from its moniker after the former bishop was implicated in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The school had only adopted the “Cardinal Wuerl” designation in 2013.

4. The Archdiocese of Baltimore decided not to name its new downtown Catholic school (scheduled to open in 2019 or 2020) Cardinal Keeler School but rather Mother Lange Catholic School after Cardinal Keeler was implicated in the abuse scandals as well.

These scenarios are worth considering. Put yourself in the shoes of each party. For instance, what was life like as the guidance counselor? Her daughter? Or, try imagining yourself as Cardinal Wuerl or as the principal of the high school. Then look at how the situations unfolded and ask yourself how you might have acted differently. And then what principles will you bring forward as you face your own controversies? This will force you to confront the meaning of church, the meaning of community, the role of ideological purity, and how we honor differences of opinion.

These exercises will bring us into uncomfortable situations where we might be advocating positions that will draw fire from outspoken critics. Yet in the past week alone the pope advocated for 8 minute homilies and 40 minute Masses and Cardinal Dolan opened the door for questioning clerical celibacy. If we are allowing only our popes and cardinals to question traditions and doctrine while remaining silent as lay people, we are perpetuating the same clericalism which is the root of many of our problems.

In other news, new schools opened in the following locations:

1. St. Jeanne Lestonnac HS opened in Temecula, California with 35 freshman and sophomores.

2. New Cristo Rey high schools opened in Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, and Oakland. Five more schools are in development (Las Vegas, Miami, Richmond, San Diego, and Raleigh).

3. St. John Paul II High School opened in west Phoenix.

4. Epiphany Catholic School in Katy, Texas.

5. Ozark Catholic Academy in northwest Arkansas.

6. Pope Francis High School in Springfield (MA) opened its new building.

This is promising news. I’ve heard of at least two other schools in development, including one for students battling addiction in the Diocese of Allentown. However, over the summer, a Catholic school was closed in New Jersey, one in Massachusetts, and another in San Antonio on top of the approximately 20 school closure announcements which came last spring. A school burned down int the Philadelphia area. These are difficult times and unless we are willing to train and form our leaders more effectively, the current (downward) enrollment trend may continue.

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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) has agreed to come on the podcast in early October to discuss his book. The book outlines "deliberate practice" and we'll explore its application to Catholic schools. If you've like to participate, pick up the book, read it, and then submit questions for Dr. Ericsoon to
  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 have a 12th grade basketball player who is being heavily recruited. A four year starter, last year he suffered a panic attack on the court and has been dealing with anxiety issues on and off the court for the past couple of years. A story came out in the newspaper about his mental health issues before the season began. As a heated rivalry game begins against the crosstown Catholic school, you notice that the school's student section has started a cheer mocking your player's mental health issues. You notice that students are yelling "He is Crazy" and "Get a Shrink" in unison. First, identify the issues. Then, reflect on different responses.

Catholic School News

What I'm Up To

This week I'm heading on a Native American Schools tour! I'm heading to visit three of our Indian Catholic schools in southeast Montana and then on to South Dakota to visit Red Cloud Indian Schools. Then I'll drive to Bismarck to tour the University of Mary (for a podcast interview) as well as a checkin on the new construction in the Light of Christ Schools there.

This week's podcast will be themed on Native American issues. 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: Office, visit to St. Mary's (Livingston) & drive to Billings
  • Tuesday: Visit St. Charles & Pretty Eagle; GF Catholic School Bd meeting
  • Wednesday: Visit St. Labre schools & drive to Red Cloud
  • Thursday: Visit Red Cloud Indian Schools & Wounded Knee; drive to Bismarck
  • Friday: Visit University of Mary & Light of Christ Catholic Schools; return to Helena

Miles this week: 1,776 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 10,102 road miles; 17,059 air miles

NCEA Events

  1. NCEA Seton Awards & Philanthropy Symposium Oct 1st
  2. Catholic Leadership Summit & New Leaders Academy Oct 20-24 , Jacksonville
  3. NCEA Conference & Expo April 23-25, Chicago

Last 5 Books

  1. The Art of Theological Reflection (1994) by Patricia O'Connell Killen & John De Beer.
  2. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool.
  3. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015) by Peter Frankopan
  4. The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society (1993) by Amitai Etzioni
  5. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (2008) by Geoff Colvin

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