Catholic School Matters

September 22, 2019

Surveying Catholic Culture

A little over a year ago, we formed a new Board of Limited Jurisdiction at one of our Catholic schools. In this particular community, there are stark divisions among Catholics but a shared commitment to our schools. After all, schools are the melting pots of our American Catholic Church since so many Catholics choose a parish to be around like-minded folks but in schools those parish members are mixed together. I realized there weren’t any tools available to help people understand their own perspectives, their peers, and how to navigate the differences. I reached out to Dr. Jorge Pena from the Greeley Center at Loyola-Chicago and we’ve been working on developing just such an instrument. This week’s podcast is a conversation between us as we describe this new instrument and our pilot year—and our call for interested schools to participate.

Our hope is to create an instrument that will measure Catholic culture in a short 30 question online format. It will help an individual measure their own Catholic worldview, a school to measure different constitutive bodies such as the faculty or Advisory Board, a diocese to measure groups such as principals or all Catholic teachers, and a system to learn about the culture of the different schools. We measure culture on five different dimensions—subsidiarity, solidarity, mission/money, tradition/innovation, and holiness of all/hierarchy. We hope to gather 1,000 individual participants and work to establish national norms which will be useful for comparative purposes as well as understanding how different groups come with different perspectives.

Why is this important? Well, recently Pope Francis surfaced the possibility of schism, a NCR article called for bishops to focus on fighting schism, and Catholics across the spectrum are exploring how to defy the church hierarchy. These debates are impacting our schools—how bishops view the schools, how parents interact with the school and each other, how pastors interact with the school, etc.

I came across an article last summer about a parish in turmoil. It’s a well-written piece about the conflicts between parishioners and a new pastor, between a parish community and an archbishop, as well as conflicts between parishioners themselves. It’s impossible to read the article and think that everyone is to blame for mishandling a situation. But it’s also clear that there are very different Catholic worldviews at play here and neither side has done much to appreciate the other side.

Here’s a great summary of subsidiarity and solidarity, often misunderstood to be like the federal-states right debate in American politics. Building on this is a long read about the holiness of all as compared to the celebration of the church hierarchy in Cardinal Cupich’s address to priests when he celebrates the holiness of all by virtue of baptism. When read together, there is a vision of church that is dependent on the participation of all the baptized members. For the sake of schools, it’s important to also look at the dimension of innovation and tradition. Are the solutions to the challenges of your school found in nostalgia or finding new solutions? Also, looking at someone’s affinity for mission or their sense of the business model of the school is another dimension which impacts school culture.

Our survey project is an attempt to help school communities understand their culture as well as the sources and potential for conflict. Our hope is that this instrument will bring understanding as well as identifying areas for formation and for building community. If you’re interested in participating next month in our initial cohort, email

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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.

After not renewing two guidance counselors from one of its Archdiocesan Catholic high schools during last school year, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis last summer ordered two private Catholic high schools to fire two male teachers who were married to each other. Cathedral High School fired its teacher while Brebeuf HS did not. The Archbishop addressed the question here. Brebeuf was told it would no longer be recognized as Catholic, and it is appealing to the Vatican.

We can establish that all four employees were long-serving, competent, and popular among students and staff alike. If a similar situation were to arise at your school, how would you proceed? What if this decision is unpopular with your parents? How would this impact your school? Some have argued that Catholic schools should fire all teachers who don't support Catholic positions or live lifestyles congruent with Catholic teaching. Where do you draw the line? Who you are living with? Who you are dating? Whether you are going to Mass? Etc.

On another issue, Brebeuf is making the argument that subsidiarity allows it as a private school to make employment decisions. What implications does this have?

American Catholic News

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

This week I'll be in the office for a couple of days, then will be travelling to Missoula for a Board meeting and then flying to Little Rock to spend some time with their teachers and administrators for their fall conference.

This week, I am airing a conversation with Dr. Jorge Pena from Loyola-Chicago. We have been collaborating on a survey measuring Catholic culture. On Wednesday's Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast we have a long form conversation explaining the origins of the survey, the purpose of the project, and its expected aims. We are still looking for schools to participate in the first (free) cohort. Email for more information or to sign up.

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)
  • Tuesday: Office (Helena)
  • Wednesday: Visit to Missoula
  • Thursday: Travel to Little Rock
  • Friday: Diocese of Little Rock Teacher's Convention
  • Saturday: Return to Helena

Miles this week: 135 driving miles; 3,516 air miles

Miles travelled in 2019-20: 11,703 road miles; 13,448 air miles

Last 5 Books

    1. Mere Christianity (2015) by C.S. Lewis
    2. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race (2017) by Beverly Daniel Tatum
    3. Educated: A Memoir (2018) by Tara Westover
    4. Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot (2009) by John L. Parker, Jr.
    5. The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts (2019) by Shane Parrish

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            For Montana Administrators & Teachers

            • The slide show from the Sep 3rd Virtual Admin meeting. Our next Virtual meetings are scehduled for October 1st. Here is a link to the slideshow
            • The FACTS Ed registration form should have arrived this week for the October 17-18 Catholic Teacher Days

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"

            Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"