If a regional Catholic high school is to move forward in the area, it must be a community effort.
This was the message Sunday from Charles Taylor, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Gaylord, during a meeting to discuss the potential effort with area parishioners at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Petoskey.
"The diocese can't drive this -- the community has to want it," he said.
According to Taylor, St. Francis Xavier School used to have a high school. In 1965, there were 999 students enrolled in the K-12 school -- 292 in the high school alone.
In 1971, however, the high school was closed.
"In the end, the community just let it go," Taylor said.
Currently, the diocese has only four Catholic high schools in its coverage area, including St. Francis High School in Traverse City, Gaylord St. Mary Cathedral School, Manistee Catholic Central Schools and St. Mary School in Lake Leelanau.
During Sunday's meeting, Taylor explained that to open a regional Catholic high school near Petoskey, it would take major resources -- ones that some of the larger parishes in the area could not provide.
"The Harbor Springs, Charlevoix and Petoskey parishes are maxed out -- they cannot do one more thing ... that leaves you with the Boynes and Indian River to help out," Taylor said. "This cannot be just a St. Francis (Xavier) initiative."
Father Dennis Stilwell, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Petoskey, said people leaving Sunday's meeting should continue to be hopeful.
"Right now this is a dream -- it's a grass roots effort ... if enough people want to do this, and are willing to stand by this, it could come to pass," Stilwell said. "I don't think people are discouraged, they have every reason to be encouraged."
Lisa Craig Brisson of Cheboygan, said she attended Sunday's meeting to get a handle on where this effort was actually at.
Brisson, whose children attend first, fourth and sixth grade at the Bishop Baraga Catholic School in Cheboygan, said she wants to give her children the opportunity to attend a Catholic high school.
"I went to Catholic school through college ... I looked at my high school education as being fundamentally important, and I want that for my kids," she said. "We've considered sending the kids to Gaylord (St. Mary Cathedral School), but it's just so far. When we first heard this idea, we felt Petoskey might be an option."
Brisson said she left Sunday's meeting feeling optimistic.
"I understand how daunting this can be, but people have had far less (resources) and far more challenges, and have done it," she said. "I don't feel discouraged.
"I think this meeting reinforced what I thought all along -- there is good support."
Greg Law of Petoskey said he agrees that the regional high school will have to be a community effort.
"It's going to be a question of the people's will and planting that seed ... it won't work if people wait and see," he said. "I came to the meeting supporting a regional Catholic high school and I'm leaving supporting the idea of a regional Catholic high school."
For more informaiton, visit the Regional Catholic High School web site, www.regionalcatholichighschool.com/.