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January 13, 2013

Catholic parish and high schools

Bishop Timothy DohertyBy Bishop Timothy Doherty

Catholic Schools Week occurs yearly during the last week of January. On the day I was introduced as your new bishop, I was asked if I supported Catholic education. My answer is still “yes,” particularly at the parish and secondary schools levels.

A strong vision of the value of schools for communities, not simply for pupils, continues to develop. Academic excellence and faith development for families and parishes are evident. They do not happen by accident. The social environment grows more challenging, and some challenges will produce better schools.

The University of Notre Dame is sponsoring a Catholic schools meeting for bishops in Washington, D.C., this week. I was invited (more than once) and so agreed to fly out for the two-day conference. A grant from the university covers my costs.

Our diocesan experience with tuition vouchers for parents is one point of interest. Indiana’s provision of such vouchers has given our bishops a window into how such a plan works. From the outside, some see vouchers as extra operating cash. From the inside, the vouchers for parents and school choices offer more parents opportunities to direct their children’s education. At the same time, there are administrative costs to the schools that were not fully anticipated. Couple this with Indiana’s school grading plan, also with the auditing and management of vouchers, and schools are competing for students in new ways. The same mechanisms that have helped increase some parish school enrollments can go in the opposite direction without careful attention.

As I write, there are unresolved issues with the Health and Human Services health insurance mandates that might affect non-public schools, including ours. I am advising you, dear reader, to have no doubt that elements of our religious freedom are threatened. A whole library of items defining the issues and proposing Church responses can be found at the U.S. bishops’ Web site at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/

I am grateful for the parents who entrust their children to education at Catholic schools. I am equally grateful for the parishes, principals, teachers and staffs who devote themselves to these efforts that raise minds and souls toward noble purposes.

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