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Baltimore archdiocese should invest in existing Catholic schools rather than build new ones

I admit I was surprised and a bit dismayed to hear that the Archdiocese of Baltimore is funding construction of a new Catholic school in West Baltimore. I find it disheartening that the archdiocese is making this single investment — of over $18 million — to what will likely be the detriment of the Catholic schools that are already here.

I certainly understand and appreciate the spirit of the development and of expanding opportunities for Catholic education. As a parishioner, I sent both of my children to St. Francis of Assisi School in Northeast Baltimore.

A little history about our school is worth reviewing. The school was established in 1956. Like many schools of it day, it depended on large Catholic families to fill the rooms and support its athletic programs. In 1995, against the advice of many "experts" and as other Northeast parish schools were seeing declining enrollment, we made the decision to expand our school by adding a third floor. With an original goal of $500,000, our “Raise the Roof” capital campaign raised over $900,000. While a third of that amount came through multi-year pledges from our parishioners and local communities, the rest came in the form of matching grants from local and national foundations. There was no financial support from the archdiocese. This was a bold move that was deemed by the parish and school as necessary for our long term survival.

Twenty years later, St. Francis is an open, inclusive community where the Catholic faith is celebrated and shared. Some of our students have ancestors who immigrated here as far back as 1623, and others are new immigrants who arrived as recently as last summer. In total, we have over 250 students with more than 45 national heritages represented in our student body. It's this diversity that has enabled St. Francis to thrive in the face of the many obstacles confronting us today.

After a rigorous certification process, we became one of the only archdiocesan schools in Maryland certified to teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which encourages students to think independently and engage more broadly with the world around them. In addition to the IB program, we’ve expanded our services to support both parents and students to include a robust pre-school program, daily after school care and summer day care.

In the last 18 months, the archdiocese, in conjunction with outside consultants, has done a complete review of its city schools to evaluate their existing infrastructure needs, proposed facility enhancements and, ultimately, to decide on the viability of these schools. St. Francis of Assisi school has been identified as one of those that is thriving as schools around us have closed.

Based on the findings from the archdiocesan study, officials identified some options that could help us reconfigure and/or expand our facility to better support our programs and activities. We were excited about the opportunity and had begun planning a capital campaign to address these needs. But, in addition to other significant challenges, this new construction announcement all but assures that many of the foundations that support Catholic education and so generously supported us in the past will be unavailable to support our efforts. In all likelihood, this will cause us to postpone our expansion plans.

Drawing on the ideals of our patron saint, St. Francis, the school's motto of "St. Francis of Assisi School: not just a school but a way of life" is representative of the approach we take to Catholic education. Having recently celebrated our 60th year providing a quality, Catholic-based curriculum, this raises an obvious question: As one of the fortunate city parochial schools that remain, why doesn’t the archdiocese consider us and other schools like us worthy of an investment as well?

Kevin P. Lynch (kevinplynch06@gmail.com) lives in Baltimore.

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