Dear Fellow Parishioners,
During this past week, our parish schools have been celebrating Catholic Schools Week. This nationwide observance begins on the last Monday of January, and marks the contribution and success of Catholic schools across the country. The week contains several special events, including Masses in the church for each school, Grandparents’ Day and visits from parents and grandparents. Unlike in the past, when both schools were able to have a single Mass in the church together, we had a single Mass for each school due to COVID distancing requirements.
Our parish has not only a parish elementary school (SVES), but also a parish high school (SVHS). SVHS is almost unique in that it is one of very few Catholic high schools left in the United States that is administered directly by a single parish rather than a diocese or religious order. I am not aware of another one in California or the western United States. As a result, I am not only the pastor of this parish but the chief administrator of two parish schools.
National Catholic school statistics are published by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) in the latter part of February, so we should have new information reflecting the effects of COVID on Catholic schools during the 2021-22 school year before the end of this month.
As of 2020 – 21, there were 1,626,291 students enrolled in 5,981 Catholic schools – 4,821 elementary schools and 1,169 high schools. By the start of the 2020 school year, 209 Catholic schools had closed, many because of COVID, but others due to declining enrollment. Catholic school enrollment dropped 6.4% nationwide over the previous year, the largest single-year decline in nearly 50 years.
I am happy to report that, by contrast, enrollment at SVES has risen steadily and sharply over the past four years, nearly doubling. This positive trend began well before COVID, and is continuing. The reasons for our success are many. It was during the “distance learning” time last year that our faculty and staff really distinguished themselves by the strength of their efforts, the quality of instruction, the organization of pick-up and drop-off of student school work, and the cooperation of parents. Far from being a “lost year,” it was a tremendously productive year for our students, who have adapted back to in-person learning almost seamlessly. Even the task of managing small children who cannot always understand why they need to wear masks and distance themselves from their playmates has required patience and understanding on all sides.
On the other hand, children are much more adaptable than adults give them credit for. One of my favorite experiences was celebrating Mass in the SVES chapel for the entire school via Zoom, and having my screen filled with little screens of children waving goodbye after the final blessing.
The past and ongoing expense of adapting to COVID – new Wi-Fi connections, new drinking fountains and water stations, constant sanitization, you name it – has been significant. Our grade school building (like our church) was built with so much steel reinforcement in the concrete that establishing reliable Wi-Fi connections in all rooms has been a huge logistical challenge.
At SVES and SVHS we are celebrating Catholic Schools Week with great hope for the future, and a sigh of relief and a prayer that the worst of COVID is now behind us. Both of our schools have shown, and will continue to show, tremendous residual strength in working through these unprecedented challenges.
Next week, an overview of SVHS, our parish high school.
Blessings, Fr. Bill Donahue
Dear Fellow Parishioners,