Dear Fellow Parishioners,
I would like to share some recent developments regarding SVHS, our parish high school. The following applies only to our high school, not our elementary school.
Our parish has had a school, in one form or another, since the late 1850’s, and has been graduating high school students at least since 1918. SVHS moved to its current campus in 1961. Until the mid-1960’s, St. Vincent de Paul Parish was the only parish between Cotati and Novato. The vast majority of SVHS students came from our parish families. SVHS then made sense as a parish school, one of hundreds, if not thousands, across the country.
Now, over a century later, parish high schools are virtually extinct, and we now have a parish high school in name only. Roughly a third of our students now come from Petaluma (divided between two parishes), a third from Marin County, and a third from Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma. We attract students from as far as Vallejo and San Rafael – i.e., from three dioceses. This alone supports my view that, thanks to our current faculty and staff, SVHS is as strong academically as it has ever been. SVHS recently received, yet again, the highest high school accreditation score. We have worked very hard at increasing enrollment and strengthening school finances. One very positive sign of strength has been the fact that during COVID, our enrollment held more-or-less steady. What is needed, in my view, is a new administrative model to carry SVHS through its next 100 years.
It is for these reasons, among others, that I have considered and studied an independent Catholic school model now used by increasing numbers of Catholic schools across the country, including St. Bernard High School in Eureka, in this diocese. Virtually all new Catholic schools are established according to this model. It still includes, as it must, a degree of diocesan oversight, especially as to religious education, safe environment protocols, approval of the principal and ongoing accreditation. In the case of SVHS, this parish and its people would continue to own school land and facilities as parish assets. If the change is done properly, it should be virtually seamless and invisible.
Much as I love this parish and its schools (as an alumnus of both), no one is pastor forever. When I returned as pastor in 2017, I was the oldest pastor in the history of this parish at the time of my appointment. We must begin planning for continuity of leadership. My frank concern for the parish is that the presence of two schools in a large, bilingual parish will limit to near-zero the number of suitable pastors in a small diocese willing and able to take on the challenge. My hope and intent for the high school is that it have the most effective and self-sustaining leadership structure possible going forward. We can appeal more effectively to supporters, donors and grant writers if SVHS is an independent Catholic entity with ties in the communities from which our students now come.
I fully support developing this plan. While discussions are ongoing, this is not yet a “done deal.” I welcome your input. I will have more to say about this in the days and weeks to come.
Fr. Bill Donahue