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Featured Article: Let the Children Come to Me: How We Saved Our Catholic School - It was September 2007. I was three years into my pastorate at the historic St. Augustine Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Washington. Our school had just received its notice of termination: with 175 students, it would close in June 2008 along with seven other parish schools serving predominantly African American students. Flash forward nine years. We did not close but are still here today alive and well! Read Full Story

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NBCC Spotlight Article

Saving St. Anthony
A Success Story

It was early July when the word went out: The Diocese has closed St Anthony School and summoned the teachers to turn in their keys as they were terminated. After 51 years of offering an educational alternative to a low to moderate income community, a local treasure was on the verge of being snatched away. At a previous meeting between officials and the school community in February, it was agreed that St. Anthony would have one year to increase enrolment and raise resources on order to stop using its Reserves for daily operations. The sudden closure was a breach of promise and a slap in the face to the parishioners, the nuns, lay teachers and parents but most of all the students. School supporters felt disrespected and blindsided.

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On July 7, 2011 supporters gathered at the Diocesan Pastoral Center to demand an explanation. They were offered slots at other schools and reduced tuitions ostensibly because it was determined that the minority community surrounding the St. Anthony could not economically sustain the school. This assessment was met with solid resistance; as a result they were given an 18-day reprieve. The" Save St. Anthony" campaign was organized; a comprehensive effort complete with a web site, Face Book and 1000 signed petitions; three committees focused on the priorities of Fund Raising to raise the first $50,000 to demonstrate total commitment can achieve; Enrolment to recruit new students in order to increase enrolment; and Marketing to tell the story using all forms of media.

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Weekly meetings were held to retain group cohesiveness and focus; we met with the parish priest who presumably had the final authority and the Bishop, the absolute and final authority, who said he would back the decision of the parish priest who, by the way, was a missionary priest who had only been there for 10 months and admitted he was the scapegoat. The entire community, including other churches, elected officials, and alumni joined the parish community in the campaign. The committee sent a letter to the SVD Provincial asking that the priest be removed. The Catholic community was asked to make calls at their expense to the Vatican to the Cardinals in charge of 1. problems relating to Bishops and the Cardinal in charge of 2. problems relating to Catholic schools. In addition calls were made to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, DC. The group filed a lawsuit with the US Department of Education-Civil Rights Division charging discrimination. Finally, the group picketed the special Mass celebrated by the Bishop in honor of World Youth Day with a theme of "Save St. Anthony for our Youth". In two months, there were at least eight news articles, three radio shows, a resolution from the Mayor and Council of the city of San Bernardino and national and international support. The major achievement was the capitol campaign which raised $50,000 and enrolled 124 students in six weeks.

The Sisters of Mercy who had been excluded from the decision-making process finally got a meeting with the Bishop and advised him to meet with the people; he agreed to meet with a delegation of 10 representatives on August 28, almost three months after the protest meeting at the Diocese. He acknowledged that he has made the decision to close the school on the advice of the Superintendent; he expressed his concern that the school would open and have to close mid-year and his concern about the use of reserve funds for Operations; he said the School Board did not exercise proper leadership. Of course they were an advisory body not a governing body and therefore had no power. The Bishop admitted that errors had been made by Diocesan officials.

The group had decided that only one question would be asked in as many ways as possible: Will we be allowed to open the school? After 90 minutes the Bishop went form "no" to "yes" with stipulations and time frames. New procedures all schools with certain provisions tailored to, each school will be developed; so the St. Anthony case will benefit the whole system. St. Anthony will be opened for the 2012-13 school year. Supporters have dubbed the past three months as Phase I.

Phase II is underway with the vision of a school that is not merely surviving but one that is thriving. The group is no longer working to save the school but to re-open the school. A Plan of Action will be submitted the Diocese by January 2012 and in the meantime the School Improvement Committee will commence its work to refurbish the school; the Development Committee, which combined Fund Raising and Marketing, will work to replenish the Reserves about which the Bishop complained. The Enrolment Committee is getting commitments from parents to bring their children back next year; it will also recruit new K-8th grade students on a regional basis for the 2012-13 school year.

The challenge facing the group is daunting but the unity, commitment and enthusiasm are at peak levels believing that with faith in God, all things are possible; without faith, nothing is possible.

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