Now that the crisis is over for most schools I was hoping that some reporting and commentary would appear in the papers that would let people know what had happened and why, but there's been very little. Few reporters seem interested in doing more than printing whatever public spokesmen happen to say.
Some reporters have brought out some interesting facts, and I’ll try to highlight them in some future posts, but in the field of commentary there’s only been one thing written that’s at all insightful, and it appeared in the Inquirer of all places. I think the editors may have perceived it to be somehow useful against the Church because they took its tone to be strident and maybe a little revolutionary.
A.J. Thomson, from Fishtown, was well-positioned to learn something from this fight, and he did. He was instrumental in the successful appeal of the plan to “merge” St. Laurentius with St. Peter the Apostle, and have the regional school at St. Peter’s. I think that one may have been important to the planners. I think they would have loved to have made the Catholic school at the shrine of St. John Neumann into a regional rather than a parish school. It certainly seems that their plan to close St Laurentius was unnecessary, even under their criteria, since they were unable to come up with a basis for rejecting the appeal.
His column appeared in the Inquirer on February 26. Here’s an example of a sentence that I'm not quite sure about. “And like any struggle for one’s identity, it made us better.” Well, I certainly agree that it was an inspiring struggle. I also agree that it made us better. It got lots of people together in a good way. Those who won accomplished something very much worth doing. Those on our side who did not save their schools were also fighting for the right. But for their “identity?” That strikes me as the kind of psychobabbly word that the planners use. Maybe, though, he used it to mean “heritage.”
I very much liked this paragraph, which shows he’s paying attention.
The archdiocesan officials who delivered the news of the reprieves looked as if they were in the receiving line at their own funerals. Their morose expressions underscored the vast distance between those who want Catholic education and those who have concocted a Byzantine system for telling us we can't have it.
The archbishop was happy. The rich guys were happy. The politicians were happy. The planners and their minions weren’t. They didn’t start this process to get lots of money at the last minute and save schools. They started it to close schools. They don’t like the high schools being saved, and they don’t like all those grade schools’ appeals being granted, showing how shoddy and unsupported their “work” was. Mr. Thomson knows that the people he and his friends fought against to keep St. Laurentius open were not trying to lose. They were trying to win. Maybe the archbishop noticed and learned something from the way his employees acted when they were announcing the saved grade schools.
Mr. Thomson also has spotted the most important issue. He knows that the excuse for the mass closing of grade schools makes no sense.
The new doctrine suggesting that a parish shouldn't support a school seems to come from a mail-order business-school curriculum, not the tradition of Catholicism as we know it in Philadelphia. The paramount aim of our church should be to educate and instill our faith in as many of its young people as possible. For centuries, it has been. Only now is the principle being questioned by a few.
Grade schools don't get money from the archdiocese. They used to be supported by the parishes. If Catholicism is a religion, there’s no reason why parishes can’t support schools. St. John Neumann’s whole idea was that parishes would support schools. The planners never explain why parishes shouldn’t support schools, they just assert it.
I’ve got no business quibbling with Mr. Thomson. He said, in the pages of the Inquirer, no less, in the face of the violent disagreement of the entire archdiocesan bureaucracy, save only the guy at the very top: “The paramount aim of our church should be to educate and instill our faith in as many of its young people as possible.” The planners have many, many goals that come before that one. I’m going to go through with the quibble, though. This “new doctrine” comes from the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office for Research and Planning. They don't preach this new doctrine for business reasons. No business would deliberately damage its main source of new customers. They preach their new doctrine because they want to be in an entirely different business. This is an effective plan for getting the Church where they want it to be.
One more quibble. Mr. Thomson compares the fight to the Civil War and Lincoln’s problem in getting his generals to fight. He says that “it is time to ditch the McClellans―the generals who shrink from a challenge,” and: “We should be asking the archbishop to promote the Grants and Shermans.” Certainly the leaders in the fight to save schools did the right thing. Leaping into the breach on very short notice and putting up a good fight deserves praise. But what does Mr. Thomson want to be promoted to? It may be this request that got his column into the Inquirer. They may have thought he is fighting to reorganize the Church along the lines of Congregationalism, or something. And some of the heroes in this battle were not lay people. Father Olson of Bonner and Prendie certainly distinguished himself in the fight.
More importantly, our problem is not that we have too many McClellans. I wish the planners were more timid. They faced the challenge of a new archbishop who might take away their control of the diocese. They decided to meet that challenge as Michael Corleone would. They put together a plan to “settle all family business” on one day before the new archbishop knew his new diocese.
Anyway, Mr. Thomson did a great job. He saved his school, and he learned enough in the process to write the most perceptive article on the school closings that I’ve seen published anywhere, and he got it published in the Inquirer. I hope he heeds his own call to continue to fight for Catholic schools.