Recycled Schemes To Close Churches And Schools

Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced “All Things New”— a benign-sounding initiative to increase evangelization and revitalize the Church over the coming decades. The Archdiocese markets “All Things New” as an opportunity for St. Louis Catholics to help steer the Church for the future. Its name references the prophecies of St. John the Apostle in Revelation (from Revelation 21:5), “Behold, I am making all things new” using Scripture to soothe the faithful that this campaign is noble and good. Lest we forget that Satan unabashedly quoted the prophets while tempting Christ in the desert, “All Things New”, in reality, seems a pre-planned blueprint spreading nationwide through archdioceses like a cancer with a similar endgame once it infects its host — the closing of churches and schools, not to revitalize and evangelize but for money. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver; the Church and the organization behind “All Things New” could betray the faithful for billions more.

I have seen the future that lies ahead for the churches and schools within the Archdiocese of St. Louis as I now live through a third “All Things New” type campaign. The Archdiocese of St. Louis tells its congregation that no plans are set in stone yet, and our feedback is vital to shaping the future. I’ve heard this message twice before. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I will not be fooled a third time.

The names are always similar—a variation of “all things new”, and marketing material follows a similar pattern—a golden or yellow cross on a white background encircled in various hues of soft blues. While living in New York City, its Archdiocese announced “Making All Things New” in 2011. By 2015, “Making All Things New” closed or merged parishes throughout the archdiocese affecting 112 parishes in all, over 30% of the archdiocese’s 368 parishes.

In 2016, my family and I moved to Stamford, CT, located less than an hour’s train ride from New York City. Located in Fairfield County Connecticut, Stamford lies under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Bridgeport. Our son entered pre-school at one of the three parish, diocesan Pre-K through 5th Grade elementary schools. Stamford also offered a diocesan middle school and diocesan high school. Coinciding with our arrival, the Diocese of Bridgeport launched its “To Make All Things New” initiative. In messaging eerily similar to the current situation in St. Louis, the Diocese of Bridgeport assured the families, parishes, and schools that no decision has been made yet and all of our feedback is necessary. However, shortly after returning from Christmas break, the diocese announced all three elementary schools and the middle school will close at the end of that school year and merge into a new Pre-K through 8th Grade school called Catholic Academy of Stamford for the following school year. All teachers, staff, and administrators were terminated at the end of the term but could reapply. By spring of 2020 the diocesan high school also closed.

To understand what became of properties and the incentives to vacate them through “To Make All Things New”, we step back to 2013 and the arrival of a new Bishop of Bridgeport, Bishop Frank Caggiano. Here, too, is another piece of the “All Things New” playbook; installation of new leadership with marching orders to carryout “All Things New”. Bishop Caggiano receives an appointment as the Bishop of Bridgeport in 2013 and launches “To Make All Things New” in 2016. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski receives an appointment as the Archbishop of St. Louis in 2020 and launches “All Things New” in 2022. The end goals of “All Things New” seem to be set years before announcing the initiative publicly.

As Bishop Caggiano arrives in Bridgeport in 2013, the Sisters of the Company of the Savior approached the new bishop about founding its own school. Company of the Savior is a well-funded female Religious Institute started in Spain in 1952 and expanded to the US in 1961, arriving in Bridgeport, CT. For over 50 years, the Sisters taught in diocesan schools in Bridgeport until the last closed in 2013, coinciding with the arrival of the new bishop. They approached the bishop about opening their own school. Thanks to the efforts of “To Make All Things New”, the Sisters found a property available by 2017 and moved onto the campus of Holy Spirit School in North Stamford, one of the diocesan elementary schools closed just a few months earlier.

By 2020 an even larger property became available. Despite sinking millions of dollars into technological renovations at Trinity Catholic High School, centrally located in Stamford, Bishop Caggiano shuttered the lone diocesan high school in town citing falling enrollment numbers, likely stemming from increased chatter that Trinity would find itself next on the chopping block. By November 2020, the Diocese of Bridgeport and the Sisters negotiated a sale of the 125,000-square feet recently renovated, former Trinity Catholic High School and a long-term land lease of the 20-acre campus. Who owns the land, and why was it leased rather than sold with the buildings? Regardless of who owns the land, the motives of the Diocese and land owner seem clear — remove low-revenue tenants and replace with a tenant who has superior financial backing. Tuition at the parish schools was $6,580-$7,200; tuition at Mater Salvatoris is $13,100-$16,700.

None of this is to degrade the service, dedication, and mission of the Sisters nor to disparage Mater Salvatoris. Mater Salvatoris is a rigorous school educating its students in the faith and preparing them for life beyond the classroom. The Sisters, along with the priests from the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary who partner with the Sisters for the boys’ school at Mater, are absolutely performing God’s work and enriching the students in a faithfully Catholic education. However, increased evangelization is the stated goal of “To Make All Things New” and each of these “All Things New” campaigns. How does closing all five diocesan schools and replacing them with one diocesan option and one, more expensive, private option increase evangelization? Making Catholic education more difficult to obtain runs absolutely counter to evangelizing for the future.

With more than a decade gone since starting “Making All Things New” in New York and six years gone since starting “To Make All Things New” in Connecticut, what does their experience say about the success of “All Things New” initiatives? Has the Archdiocese of New York seen an increase in evangelization, an increase in Mass attendance, increase in the number of people receiving the Sacraments? The spokespeople for “All Things New” in St. Louis tell us it is too soon to tell. Well, a child born in 2011 is now 10 to 11 years old, in 5th or 6th grade, and could have received at least three of the Sacraments by now — Baptism, Reconciliation, and Holy Communion. Has this number increased? Is there an uptick in Catholic marriages over the last decade with those families bringing their children into the faith? Are more people attending Mass regularly in New York and Connecticut than 5 to 10 years ago? I would be hard-pressed to say New York City resembles anything remotely more Catholic now than it was a decade ago. “Too soon to tell” sounds like the data are not favorable.

However, it is not necessary to see specific data from any “All Things New” type initiatives to know they are unmitigated disasters for evangelization. In fact, the data from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which it presented as reasons why “All Things New” is necessary, tells the whole story about closing schools, closing churches, and evangelization. In Spring 2020, the Catholic Church unwittingly conducted a nationwide experiment testing the relationship between closing churches and schools versus evangelizations when it shuttered churches and deprived its flock of receiving the Sacraments with Covid-related lockdowns. According to the Archdiocese’s own data, presented at recent “All Things New” information sessions, Mass attendance in October 2020 plummeted compared to attendance in October 2019. By October 2021, only a portion of the decline had recovered. In short, when churches close evangelization craters and the flock returns in fewer numbers.

What’s the message for St. Louis Catholics? To start, you should know the implementation plan from “All Things New” was potentially set in place long before the Archdiocese publicly announced the initiative. At this point, your feedback may be as useful as screaming into the abyss. For the parents, students, and school administration and staff, you should assume the Archdiocese can pull the rug from under you as happened in Stamford. School closure announcements could come at the last possible moment leaving you with little time to discern the new merged schools. Also, chaos may ensue as the Archdiocese tries to re-staff and re-launch these merged schools within months of closing the established ones. Learning loss is a probability.

In Planning Area 8 of “All Things New” St. Louis, every option presented calls for the merging of the two largest parishes— Ascension in Chesterfield and St. Clare of Assisi in Ballwin. Both of these parishes have schools through 8th Grade. According to Private School Review, enrollment at Ascension is over 400 while enrollment at St. Clare is over 275. Combined there are nearly 700 potential saints whose souls cry out to know that Christ came to save them. And not a collective “them” but each and every single one is called individually to salvation. If the schools combine, as is planned for the parishes, it seems capacity constraints could mean about 100 students will no longer fit. Jesus told the parable of the shepherd with 100 sheep who upon learning one was missing left the 99 to find the one who was lost. Upon finding the lost sheep and reuniting it with the flock, the shepherd rejoiced. The Archdiocese, though, could lose one out of every seven because, by their own admission, resources are limited and need better utilization.

A Pew Research poll found just 31% of Catholics believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. This speaks to a rot running deep in the foundational formation of the faith. No amount of church closings, school closings, or selling off of assets to the highest bidder will improve the Church in the future if less than 1/3rd of Catholics believe that, when receiving the Eucharist, you receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Savior. A Church truly concerned about her future should focus more on teaching the true beauty that lies in the Eucharist and less on how to close parishes while selling off assets. They have a captive audience—thousands of them daily in schools spread across the City and County.

Now is the time to demand a full accounting of the Archdiocese’s finances and transactions. Demand transparency on ownership of Archdiocesan assets and land and how and with whom these are transferred and disposed. Expose “All Things New” for the sham it appears.

In April 2020, Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford, CT received a PPP loan of $459,500. It already had announced plans to close before receiving the loan and shuttered its doors permanently less than two months after the loan. Where did this money go?

In June 2021, North Mianus School, a public school in Greenwich, CT, leased space at the former Trinity Catholic High School now occupied by Mater Salvetoris. The lease term was $850,000 for five months from August through December 2021. Where did this money go?

In the City and County of St. Louis, Church properties sit on land potentially estimated at over $1 billion in value. If the Archdiocese plans to close churches and schools, where does this money go? Who financially benefits? Since the announcement of “All Things New”, parishes have continued collections at Mass. Where does this money go when the parish closes?

Do not be deceived as I was for over a decade. My eyes are wide open now. “All Things New” may come as a thinly veiled assault on the fabric and foundation of the Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *