Consultations to focus on future of Catholic schools

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will unveil his vision for Catholic education’s future in two closed-door consultation meetings Feb. 10 and 12 at St. John the Evangelist in Columbia.

Since the archbishop first announced in November the meetings to address dwindling enrollment in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there has been widespread speculation about possible solutions. Archdiocesan officials say that everything, including consolidation or closing of schools, is on the table.

“We don’t want anyone to forgo a top education, and we would be doing that if we let the status quo continue,” the archbishop recently told The Catholic Review. “It’s taking a strengthening action because that’s what we’re about.”

The archbishop said the plan will take 18 months to implement fully.

Local businessman Frank Bramble chairs a blue-ribbon committee of community leaders who will help implement the archbishop’s plan. He is assisted by Monsignor Robert L. Hartnett, the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Essex, who has been appointed executive director of school planning.

Monsignor Hartnett was one of 13 pastors chosen from across the nation to receive the National Catholic Educational Association’s Distinguished Pastor Award at the organization’s convention in Anaheim, Calif., in April.

The Feb. 10 meeting is for parish priests, the one two days later for principals and administrators. Monsignor Hartnett said the archbishop is expected to open them with remarks about the severity of the problem, then detail the direction he has set for the blue-ribbon committee.

Monsignor Hartnett said that both meetings will feature an hour-long interactive discussion facilitated by Sister of St. Joseph Constance Gilder, the archbishop’s delegate for religious.

“I think we all want to know what the archbishop’s expectations are,” Monsignor Hartnett said. “This is the beginning of the process. There will be other consultations down the road.”

Monsignor Hartnett said that he and Mr. Bramble are still in the process of selecting people for the blue-ribbon committee, but they “feel pretty good about the process as it’s being set up.”

Monsignor Hartnett said there are many “stakeholders” in Catholic education, which makes this one of his biggest professional missions. Mr. Bramble, the former vice chairman of MBNA America, echoed that sentiment during a January interview with The Catholic Review.

“Everybody wants to be part of a winning team,” he said. “It’s not to say Catholic schools aren’t providing the product. But the environment in which we are providing the product is certainly challenging. If we can create more of a winning environment, that will continue to attract the best teachers, the best students and people who are committed to wanting to be a part of something that is terrific.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.