National News

New Agreement on Catholic Schools Allows ‘Students to Have Access to the Very Best’

Sarah Joseph, left, and Clare Deely, students at St. John Vianney Parochial School in Nashville, Tenn., sing at the end of the all-schools Mass Feb. 1 in celebration of Catholic Schools Week. (Photo: CNS)

By Christopher White, National Correspondent

NEW YORK — In a major new agreement, the Archdiocese of Chicago has entered into partnership with an independent foundation that will take over the operational control of 30 of the city’s Catholic schools.

The $47.5 million dollar arrangement between the Chicago archdiocese and Big Shoulders Fund, a private foundation dedicated to promoting the work of Catholic education, was announced last week in a move hailed by Cardinal Blase Cupich as an effort to strengthen the archdiocese’s commitment to Catholic education.

The 10-year agreement is said to be the largest of its kind entered into between an outside organization and a diocese regarding the operational commitment.

“Our Catholic schools are true beacons of hope; changing lives, developing engaged citizens and contributing to the common good of our great city,” said Cardinal Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago. “Through this historic agreement, the Archdiocese of Chicago and Big Shoulders Fund will strengthen our efforts to provide the lifelong benefits of a Catholic education to Chicago- area children and society at large.”

“I am very grateful to the Big Shoulders Fund and donors for their decades-long support of archdiocesan schools and school families,” he continued

The announcement comes at a time when Catholic dioceses across the country are facing pressure to close their schools as they are faced with mounting expenses from clergy abuse payouts, property upkeep, and personnel overhead.

According to the Chicago Tribunethe archdiocese suffered a loss of more than $92 million in 2018 alone.

Of the 205 schools currently operating in the archdiocese, five of which will close at the end of the year, the new arrangement will take on a 51 percent stake in 30 of the schools and take on their financial risks. The foundation will also continue its support to another 75 schools in the archdiocese.

As a part of the agreement, the archdiocese will continue its current level of support, totaling $44.9 million.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago said that under the arrangement the foundation would pursue new programming for the schools, but that the archdiocese would retain control over personnel.

“The schools covered by this agreement will remain part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic school system, but Big Shoulders Fund will increase its operating support and programmatic investments while also assuming a leadership role in helping school principals manage toward a vibrant future,” the statement reads.

The agreement between the two institutions takes effect right away and includes support for the current academic year’s budget.

Big Shoulders “provides funds to support Catholic schools who serve the poor and disadvantaged in the neediest parts of inner-city Chicago,” and was established in 1986 inspired by the now late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin who led the city’s Catholic Church from 1982 until his death in 1996.

“Big Shoulders Fund is honored to be able to work with these schools – true community-based organizations – in this new capacity,” said President and CEO Josh Hale in a statement to The Tablet.

“There is tremendous talent in these schools and their communities, and we want students to have access to the very best. Our hope is that through an expanded role in helping with local management of and supports for principals in key operational and academic areas – marketing, financial planning, professional development for educators, talent recruitment and development, and more – that we can help secure a vibrant future for our schools.”

Following the agreement announcement, Hale said that he hopes that students from these schools will be able to stay in Chicago and to invest in their local communities.

The agreement is said to benefit more than 5,600 students and their respective families.