Today, I announced that I have named Father Robert H. Byrne, Pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish in Frankenmuth, to serve as Vicar for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Saginaw. I shared the following prepared remarks about the appointment with the Pastors and Pastoral Administrators of the Diocese during our quarterly meeting together yesterday:
"Since becoming the Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, I have dedicated a great deal of time, thought and prayer to the issue of Catholic Education in general and Catholic Schools in particular. Clearly, Catholic education extends well beyond our established Catholic elementary, middle and secondary schools. Catholic education is a cradle-to-grave endeavor. It is essential for us to develop ways to enhance Catholic educational programs and opportunities for those children who do not attend Catholic school as well as for our adult faithful who are in need of or simply desire a deeper knowledge of the Catholic Faith."
"I am convinced that Catholic schools remain our strongest means of forming, developing, and educating our Catholic youth. The strength of our Catholic Church is dependent upon our ability to provide quality and affordable Catholic education in a Catholic school setting. I have pledged and continue to pledge my personal commitment to do everything within my power to maintain a strong Catholic school program for our diocese."
"However, the challenges which currently face our parents, parishes and diocese in efforts to maintain our Catholic schools are greater than ever. Enrollment has been on a steady decline due, in part, to the declining birth rate itself. Simply put: there are fewer children to educate. Fewer children mean higher costs. Higher costs make it more difficult for those families who are struggling financially in these turbulent fiscal times; and so, many are forced to transfer their children to public schools. As we have all come to experience, this creates a circular effect: fewer children, higher costs, diminishing resources, fewer schools. This condition is also compounded by the fact that a considerable number of Catholic parents do not fully appreciate the importance of formal education for their children in the Catholic Faith."
"This confluence of circumstances has created a critical situation for a number of our parish elementary schools. Despite all commendable efforts, they are faced with the necessary task of considering consolidation with neighboring schools or, in some cases, closure. Bay Area Catholic Schools (BACS) and Saginaw Area Catholic Schools (SACS) each address the schools in their respective areas as a system. Unfortunately, all other parishes are left to address this situation in relative isolation. There is no diocesan office, personnel or mechanism that allows the rural parishes to address the issue cooperatively, in mutual dialogue."
"When I arrived in the diocese, the schools office was without leadership. There was no Superintendent of Schools or liaison for pastors, pastoral administrators, principals or teachers. There was a regional superintendent for BACS as well as a regional vicar to provide some leadership. On the other hand, with only one week before the opening of the academic year, there was no regional superintendent for SACS and no principal for Nouvel. We then hired a new principal for Nouvel on the condition that she would also assume regional superintendent responsibilities for SACS. Unlike BACS, a regional vicar was not assigned to SACS."
"There still remains no regional superintendent for Rural schools. After much consultation and reflection, I have formulated my own plan for leadership and coordination in a way that would not create any extensive change or re-organization. I am committed to the need to hire an over-all Superintendent of Schools, the salary for which is in the budget. This person would report directly to me and would have oversight responsibilities for the other two regional superintendents, that is, of BACS and SACS. In addition, this new Superintendent of Schools would assume specific duties as regional superintendent for the Rural Schools. It is my hope that this position will be filled by a competent Religious, man or woman. This is my ultimate plan to which I continue to apply myself. In September, I wrote to three religious congregations to ascertain if they could recommend a qualified person to serve as Superintendent of Schools. Unfortunately, September is not the opportune time to post such a position since qualified individuals are already in place for the current academic year. So, immediately after the new year begins, I will again reach out to religious congregations with the hope that we will have a Superintendent of Schools in place for the 2010-2011 academic year."
"In the meantime, our rural schools continue to face their educational challenges effectively alone. This is a situation which is simply unacceptable. Our pastors, pastoral administrators, principals, teachers and parish committees need leadership and coordination."
"Tomorrow, I will publicly announce that I have appointed Father Robert Byrne, Pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish, Frankenmuth, to serve as my Vicar for Catholic Schools. Father Byrne has graciously expressed his willingness to assume this new responsibility in addition to his duties as Pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish. Since late October, Father Byrne and I have engaged in several discussions about the challenges we are facing and potential ways of addressing them. As Vicar for Catholic Schools, Father Byrne will represent me to the entire diocesan school community and will advise me on school issues across the diocese. He will assist me in evaluating candidates for the position of Superintendent of Schools and re-establishing the Schools Office in the Diocesan Center. Most especially, at this critical moment, he will provide leadership and support to the pastors, pastoral administrators, superintendents, principals, teachers and school committees and boards of all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Saginaw. A more complete job description of the Vicar for Catholic Schools has been developed and will be provided to you and the public. It is my plan that Father Byrne will serve in this role until the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. It would be my hope that, at the beginning of that school year next Fall, we will have in place a Superintendent of Schools. In this way, Father Byrne can work with that person to orient him or her to the Diocese of Saginaw and to ensure a smooth period of transition as the Superintendent assumes greater responsibility and oversight of our schools."
"I am deeply grateful to Father Byrne for accepting this new responsibility. I am sensitive to his parish obligations and realize the sacrifice I have asked him to make. However, his contributions to the educational needs of the diocese are greatly needed. Father Byrne brings a wealth of priestly, pastoral, educational and administrative experience to this position. Even in this period of preliminary discussions with him, I feel a greater confidence and have gained deeper insight regarding the local situation and clearer direction as to the necessary measures which must be taken to improve our educational program."
"In the immediately future, Father Byrne will contact the pastors, principals and pastoral administrators of the rural schools in order to arrange a meeting together to assess each local situation and to strategize a course of action. I have also asked him to meet with the superintendents of BACS and SACS to ensure a unity of mission and vision for Catholic schools throughout the diocese."
"I want to reiterate my commitment to Catholic education for all and to Catholic schools in particular. I have often said that my faith in God, my love for the Church and her sacraments and my priestly vocation are due, in large measure, to my years of education in Catholic schools. There is no doubt that the lack of knowledge of our Faith has a direct affect on the diminished Mass attendance and participation in our parishes. Since coming to this diocese, I have tried my best to understand the critical situation which confronts us as regards Catholic education and schools, to discern what actions I might take to transform a declining enrollment into an increasing one, and to address the financial constraints arising from diminished resources. I know, however, that you as priests and pastoral administrators, serving in direct relationship with the faithful, have a greater influence on the people you serve. I implore you to assist your school families to allow them to continue to send their children to our parish schools, and to do whatever is possible to encourage the parents of those who do not attend Catholic schools to seriously consider doing so."
"While difficult and painful decisions regarding Catholic schools still lie ahead, I remain hopeful that our schools will pass through these challenging times stronger than ever. This can only be done through mutual cooperation, obvious sacrifices and a confident trust that the hand of the Lord is here to guide us. May Saint John Neumann, in his love for Catholic schools, guide and bless all our endeavors."