When I began this blog nine months ago, I invited you to follow along as I was charged with ministering to a dying parish community that wasn’t ready to die. Saint Charles Borromeo Parish lived its heydays in decades past as one of the most vibrant places in our local diocese—so vibrant that it split into multiple communities. But since the turn of the century, it has struggled to gather people, pay bills, educate children, or make ends meet. We embarked upon a revitalization campaign to invoke the Spirit of God to revive our own spirit and unite it with His: to retrieve what had fallen away and rebuild what had fallen apart. In this nine month gestation period much has happened. I’ll offer here some thoughts about our spirit, our school, and our stewardship care of the plot of earth entrusted to us, reporting how we are charging forward by the grace of God and your generous assistance.
The most notable change is in our school. From 578 students twelve years ago to 117 last year, the declining trajectory resulted in an administrative decision to close the doors in May of 2016. But the community countered the death knell with an alarm of its own, a self-challenge to reverse the trend and awaken the soul by re-thinking how we educate children in our Catholic tradition. To summarize and oversimplify, we switched from being a school to an academy. Schools are places of structured learning; academies focus more on particular goals. In our case, it is a shift from a standardized model to a classical liberal arts model of learning. Among my favorite components of this shift is an emphasis on problem-solving and critical thinking that helps students turn knowledge into wisdom, encouraging them to make more thoughtful—less self-centered—decisions. Having lost about twenty students to graduation and moves this summer, we gained about 55 others to open our doors this month with 145 students. Our goal is to reach 200 in two more years and to be financially sustainable again.
Since January, we have also addressed numerous deferred maintenance issues on our campus. Most notable among them is replacing our leaking roofs: four of them, including the church with its many skylights. As the last diocesan school to get air-conditioning, we had to replace the 1950s vintage windows which also leaked. The uninhabitable parish rectory was rehabbed as well. These issues were dealt with primarily by Catholics from other parishes that heard our plea and lovingly reached out to help. Their generosity inspired us to address the biggest structural challenge: razing and replacing our dilapidated former convent, current parish office. Through a generous benefactor’s challenge grant, parishioners are digging in and pledging the funds that we will need for new construction, as well as adding a gathering space to our church and installing a long awaited elevator. Though the costs are more than we anticipated, we are still plugging along to attain these capital improvement costs.
These tangible signs help us face our true revitalization dreams: restoring the lively sacred spirit of faith felt in worship, conversation, parish activities, social outreach, and general care for one another according to Christ’s Gospel challenge. It’s coming along. We’re charging onward and upward. We’ll get there—with patience, perseverance, and prayer, we will one day arrive. Thank you for your caring support.