The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has extended its contract with the foundation that manages its high schools and schools of special education through 2022.
Archbishop Charles Chaput announced the extension Thursday at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia as part of National Catholic Schools Week.
The agreement is a four-year extension of Faith in the Future’s current contract, which gives the foundation independent oversight and management of the diocese’s 17 high schools and four schools of special education.
The foundation began managing archdiocesan schools four years ago.
“They saw our Catholic school system was wavering. Some people were saying Catholic education can’t continue,” Chaput said. “That’s what we’re celebrating in a special way today, the relationship with Faith in the Future.”
Chaput referenced Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia this summer when he asked Catholics a pointed question, “What about you?” Chaput said the Holy Father was echoing an earlier pope who first asked that question of Philadelphia native, St. Katharine Drexel. The archbishop said the Faith in the Future Foundation is answering that challenge the way did Drexel did.
“We were in danger of closing some of our schools, and a group of very, very creative lay people came forward and said, ‘What about us? Can’t we take responsibility and make sure this really works?’ And it has,” Chaput said.
When the archdiocese began the new model, Chaput said the partners weren’t sure it was going to work so the initial contract was for a limited time.
Ed Hanway, board chair for the foundation, said the foundation has helped steady those schools during the past four years.
“We have reversed a decline in enrollment in our schools of almost 1,000 students per year when we first became involved,” he said. “And we anticipate modest growth in student enrollment going forward, and that’s a tremendous, tremendous achievement for our high school system.”
He said the foundation has also eliminated projected operating deficits and financially stabilized the high schools.
“What’s very important about that stability is we are now positioned to invest much more than we have in the past in our people and their development, in enhanced educational programming, and, very importantly, in improved technology,” he said.
Chaput mentioned Philadelphia’s roots as a place for innovation in Catholic education, citing a previous Bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann, who’s credited with establishing the parochial school system in the United States.
“Philadelphia is a place where there’s been a lot of creativity around Catholic education from the beginning of the Church in the United States,” he said. “The thing that’s so exciting for me about Faith in the Future is continuation of that kind of creativity into the 21st century.”
The new education model avoids the danger of putting all the responsibility on the clergy and allows lay people to share responsibility for the church, Chaput said.
“One of the dangers of the way we live as Catholics is that we think that the priests and the sisters and the bishops are the ones who are supposed to do everything,” he said. “But that’s not a correct understanding. If we’re going to have a Catholic understanding of the church, that means all of us in the church, because of our baptism, are co-responsible for the church.”
The renewal of the agreement — almost two years early — is a great vote of confidence, Hanway said, but the foundation has no plans at this time to expand to any of the diocese’s 121 elementary schools.