DePaul Catholic School: On the road to becoming a ‘mission school’ this year

As a growing number of Catholic schools close their doors, Germantown’s DePaul Catholic School, located at 44 W. Logan St., is working toward becoming an Independent Mission School (IMS) by the end of the school year.

Once they become an IMS, DePaul, which has been a part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since 1966, will no longer be run directly by the Archdiocese, although they will still be affiliated.

“I do believe this will help us as a whole,” said Sister Cheryl Ann Hillig, principal of DePaul.

Different model

She said that in the Archdiocesan model, the pastor of the church oversees the school and makes the final decisions.

Within the IMS model, however, the principal will work with their IMS council to make educational decisions, manage fundraising efforts and strategize marketing initiatives.

“We’ll be responsible to our funders to produce results,” explained Hillig.

Steve Janczewski, vice president of DePaul, said that becoming a “mission school” is essential to sustaining DePaul for the future.

“It’s going to be a focused group that will support us and find us better funding,” said Janczewski. “It’s really going to create a network of inner-city schools.”

The long road to sustainability

Janczewski explained that tuition is “not enough” to sustain the school. As of this year, DePaul’s tuition is $5,600 a year, although the school gives $2,275 to each student as part of a “standard scholarship.”

“Each year, we have to find a way to raise half of our budget, and we’ve already been a merged school,” said Janczewski, recalling the 1986 merger of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Madeline Sophie students into DePaul (which was then called St. Martin de Porres Interparochial School).

He explained that the merger enabled the school population to grow to 500, but that by 2003, enrollment dwindled drastically to 181.

“This year, we have 315 students,” said Janczewski, noting that about 80 percent of the school is non-Catholic. “We are faith-based, but not necessarily Catholic. We look to be a beacon in Germantown in spite of neighborhood challenges.”

‘The DePaul Promise’

To keep the school afloat last year, DePaul launched a 501(c)3 called “The DePaul Promise” which raises money for student scholarships and enabled the school to “operate financially independent from the Archdiocese.”

The “mission school” idea came on the heels of that fundraiser, and has given the school a new hope for sustainability, even as neighboring parishes St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul and Immaculate Conception merged this July.

“We were not affected by the parish merger,” said Janczewski, who noted that the merger speaks to the need to “keep being creative” to stay open.

Major overhaul

“Mission schools” are a component of a major overhaul in the Archdiocese, which recently announced that an agreement had been reached to “create an independently managed Catholic school system” with their partner, the Faith and the Future Foundation (FFF).

In addition to preliminary monitoring of about eight soon-to-be mission schools like DePaul, the FFF will begin “strategic and operational management” of 17 Archdiocesan high schools and four Archdiocesan special-education schools as of September. The effort includes fundraising, enrollment management and marketing.

Although “mission schools” are still in their preliminary stages, Hillig is enthusiastic for the takeover to begin.

“We should be an official mission school by the end of the school year,” said Hillig.

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