Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Lucy Shawn of Sacred Heart School in Gervais, Fr. Don Gutmann and Debbi Monahan of St. Clare School in Portland and Angie Gomez of St. John the Baptist School in Milwaukie discuss a topic during a meeting to begin strategic planning for Catholic schools in western Oregon.

Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Lucy Shawn of Sacred Heart School in Gervais, Fr. Don Gutmann and Debbi Monahan of St. Clare School in Portland and Angie Gomez of St. John the Baptist School in Milwaukie discuss a topic during a meeting to begin strategic planning for Catholic schools in western Oregon.
The Archdiocese of Portland has begun work on a long-range plan for Catholic schools. Topics to be explored in the next year include mission, academic quality, demographics, enrollment trends, financial viability and the condition of school facilities.

“If you don’t choose your future, your future will choose you,” Holy Cross Brother William Dygert, schools superintendent, told dozens of Catholic education leaders at a Feb. 8 session. “We are blessed because we are planning from strength, not weakness. It isn’t falling apart.”

The meeting, held at The Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland, is the first of many. Parents and parishioners will be invited to give input at future sessions.

Telling the K-12 educators he is a “passionate supporter and promoter of Catholic school education,” Archbishop Alexander Sample asked them to look beyond day-to-day tasks.

“For the future of our Catholic schools, for them to be successful and for them to be all we want them to be, it’s going take some bigger thinking,” the archbishop said.

While each school will retain its unique personality and history, the archdiocesan system should have a common vision and be marked by collaboration and mutual aid, he added. 

The stakes are high for the local church. Data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate shows that Mass attendance for millennials is 40 percent for those who attended Catholic schools and only 5 percent for those who did not.

Consultants are helping with the planning. Meitler, based in Wisconsin, has helped Catholic school systems around the nation since its founding in 1971. Archbishop Sample said the company has a good reputation. 

“My real job here is to help you, our leaders in Catholic schools, lead even more effectively than you do,” said Alan Meitler, vice president of the firm his father founded. “The plan is no more than a tool for leaders to use.”

According to Meitler, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Portland face a growing and relocating population, a shift in cultural values and new trends in education. Enrollment in western Oregon Catholic schools has steadily been increasing, with a slight downturn in the past two years. Meitler says all the trends will get investigated.

Consulting teams will visit schools and interview key people during March, April and May. Consultants and a committee of local stakeholders will draft a plan in the second half of the year and present it for comment to the Catholic public in November and December. The process will generate reports to be presented at the start of 2018. Then the archdiocese and schools will start putting the plan into action.

“We hope that in 30, 40 or 50 years, people like you sitting in a room like this are congratulating us on the wisdom of our choices, not condemning us for a lack of wisdom,” Brother William told the school leaders.

“The question is,” Meitler concluded, “does our vision of our schools match God’s?”

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