May 9, 2015

Father's Corner -- Corpus Christi Parish and Catholic Schools in Great Falls

Father’s Corner – Corpus Christi and Catholic Schools

As many have heard, Bishop Warfel is moving forward with plans for a new model for Catholic schools in Great Falls in which parishes and schools are invited to unite to form a single system. At this time, Holy Spirit School and Great Falls Central High School are the two schools and Holy Spirit Parish and St. Ann’s Parish are the two parishes uniting in this school system. At this time, Our Lady of Lourdes School and the Ursuline Early Childhood Center are the two schools who are not joining the consolidation, as well as Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Corpus Christi Parish, and Malmstrom AFB Chapel.

Some have wondered why Corpus Christi Parish has not joined in the new school system. Simply put, there is no little misconception about the support which Corpus Christi offers to Catholic education in Great Falls. Corpus Christi Parish has very clearly expressed support for all Catholic schools in Great Falls and will continue to support Catholic education in whatever form it is present in Great Falls – whether in a single system, or not. Here are just a few ways that Corpus Christi does support and will continue to support Catholic schools in Great Falls:
-          We make financial contributions to the elementary schools, $400 per parish student attending the schools. This adds up to thousands of dollars a year, given as a donation to support the schools.
-          We advertise for the school fundraisers and promote registration for all the Catholic schools not only in our bulletin but also with mounted signs both inside and outside the building. We also have registration materials displayed in the gathering area.
-          Father Ryan has preached about the importance of Catholic education, stating the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that all Catholics are obligated to support Catholic education and that Catholic schooling is to be preferred whenever and wherever possible.
-          A number of our parish families send their children to the Catholic schools.
-          Some parishioners are teachers or administrators for the Catholic schools.
-          Father Ryan is regularly present at Central High School: Offering Mass, hearing confessions, teaching in classrooms, offering presentations during the lunch hour, assisting with monthly adoration. Further, Father Ryan even offered to be a part-time teacher at Central without any payment, when the school was looking for a religion teacher.

All of this, taken together, shows that Corpus Christi Parish is more involved and supportive of Catholic Education in Great Falls than ever in recent history. We are very much a parish which supports and believes in Catholic schools.

It is important also for people to realize that Corpus Christi Parish, although not able to make any further financial contributions (beyond what we are already doing), has offered spiritual and pastoral support for the new school system. We certainly continue to support Catholic education in Great Falls.

That being said, Corpus Christi Parish could not responsibly join fully in the new school unification process on account of the fact that the financial commitment which this would entail has never been clarified. As most know, Catholic education can be extremely costly, and even in our own city we can see that there are major financial concerns which weigh heavily on the future of the Great Falls Catholic schools – this burden is especially great when considering the massive costs associated with the re-opening of Central Catholic High School, a debt which Corpus Christi cannot carry. As much as Corpus Christi Parish supports Catholic education, it would be irresponsible for me as the Pastor to commit the financial resources of our Parish to this new school system, especially when there has been no clear indication of just what this financial commitment would entail. Whenever the schools have been discussed in our Parish Finance Council, it has been clear that any greater financial commitment would be impossible. This concern is only exacerbated by the fact that Corpus Christi Parish is already struggling financially and is still currently running a negative budget – there simply isn’t any ability to give more money to the Great Falls Catholic schools than what we already donate.

Nevertheless, Corpus Christi Parish remains a strong supporter of our Great Falls Catholic schools. In no way does this imply any negative attitude toward public education, nor less to homeschooling (indeed, isn’t the Catholic home the best Catholic school of all?). While respecting the rights of all parents to determine how to educate their children, Corpus Christi Parish seeks only to offer support and guidance for all families in whatever they have determined to be the best model for their particular circumstances. Still, following the Second Vatican Council, our Parish does have a special love for Catholic schools, and we are honored to be able to support Catholic education in Great Falls in whatever form it is found – but we know that all parents must discern for themselves what is truly best and most beneficial for their family.

If I may offer a personal note, I am proud to state that I am entirely a product of Catholic education. I credit my vocation to Catholic schools, as I discerned the call to the priesthood through Billings Central High School. My family became a “Catholic school family” when I was in junior high, and this brought about an incredible conversion for all of us. My brother attended Catholic schools as well. Eventually, my parents made a huge financial sacrifice when mom quit a very good job to become the financial manager for the Billings Catholic School System – she remained in that position for several years and did a lot of good work for the schools. I firmly believe that the future of priestly vocations in our Diocese depends upon Catholic education, especially considering that the number of priestly vocations for our Diocese is heavily dependent upon Catholic schools (although there are certain exceptions, the basic trend is that those who attend Catholic schools are far more likely to answer the call to the priesthood and this holds true for our Diocese as well). I, personally, have the greatest love for Catholic schools and especially for Catholic homeschooling, and I believe that the future of the Church in America rests with Catholic education. That being said, I also know of so many good and inspiring families who send their children to public schools – and I believe that the Church has a duty to offer them the same support, guidance, and care as we do Catholic school families. There certainly should be no sense of discrimination, and the gift of Catholic education should never lead to a sense of superiority, pride, or judgment against those who do not send their children to Catholic schools. Still, speaking personally, Catholic education is among the greatest blessings in my own life – and I am honored to belong to a parish which is so involved in the Catholic schools in Great Falls.

                                                                                                Father Ryan Erlenbush

                                                                                                Pastor, Corpus Christi Parish