Thursday, May 03, 2007

St. Agnes? hmmmmmm

Spot had an Aunt Agnes, and she was a saint, made bread and pies you wouldn't believe.

Spotty, I don't think that's who Katie had in mind when she wrote her column today.

No, I suppose not grasshopper. She was writing about a Catholic high school in St. Paul, St. Agnes—which is even older than Spot—and now finds itself in financial trouble. Katie calls the school "indispensible":

St. Agnes is a victim of the financial and enrollment squeeze that is hitting inner-city Catholic schools around the country. Eighty-five percent of its 200 high school students and 220 K-8 students receive tuition assistance, and in recent years the parish that operates the schools has incurred a debt of more than $1 million in subsidizing them.

On May 8, a decision will be made to close the high school unless something dramatic happens to improve the financial situation, says the Rev. John Ubel, St. Agnes Church pastor and school superintendent. The grade school will stay open.

[ . . . ]

At St. Agnes, [mother of several students] Collins adds, teachers worked tirelessly in and out of class to give her kids the academic support and confidence they needed. Last year, [daughter] Tomica capped her high school career by being chosen homecoming queen.

Today, St. Agnes families come not only from the inner city but also from 60 ZIP codes, including Ham Lake, North Branch and Somerset, Wis., according to Ubel.

Spot doesn't understand Katie. If it's an inner-city school why the 60 zip-coded students?

Anyway, Spot had this nagging feeling that somebody had written about St. Agnes recently. But who? Think, Spotty, think! Ah now Spot remembers; it was MNObserver writing at Norwegianity:

[We need look no farther than] St. Agnes to see where forced orthodoxy leads. St. Agnes has always been one of the most conservative parishes in the state, with a congregation that loved their latin masses and their conservative leadership.

But more than that, they loved the discipline and good teaching that went on year after year in their high school. A place where the powers that be left well enough alone, the faculty and staff produced great students year after year. Until 2002, that is, when this archconservative parish decided that a further foray into Opus Dei land was needed, especially for the free-thinking high school faculty. Goodbye, Mr. Peper, hello tax attorney (but very strict Catholic) Michael Mazza.

Hello, too, to a year of chaos that resulted in the last week of school being summarily canceled, the loss of ten faculty members (with their 190 years of teaching at St. Agnes), the departure of three administrators, and a drop in attendance that has left the school struggling and fighting for its survival even now:

Overall enrollment at the school is about 426 students, down from about 600 in 2001-02, a year of upheaval for St. Agnes that saw traumatic divisions among the administration, teachers and students.

The lesson from St. Agnes is that even the conservative faithful can be pushed too far. And with an Archdiocese whose financial situation isn't the best, alienating those who send the kids to school every day and pay the bills year after year is going to backfire.

(MNObserver was writing about the new archbishop in waiting, John Nienstedt.)

So Katie, it appears that putting a cilice and a Katherine Kersten signature model Fingers of Redemption™ self-flagellator on the school supplies list might have hurt enrollment! Imagine that.

Katie says that students leaving publics schools are merely voting with their feet, but isn't that also true of St. Agnes? Spotty says, Katie, just let it go, the market has decreed that St. Agnes is not needed.

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