In May of 2016, I was informed that I would be assigned to Saint Charles Parish amidst news reports that the school would close. This column offers an update from that May to this one, as well as some hopes for future days and future Mays.
A school sustainability team, formed during the summer when I arrived, recommended that we introduce to Kansas City and our diocese the Catholic classical liberal arts model of educating elementary students. After teachers and administrators dove in to the new model through much research and training, we inaugurated Borromeo Academy on the first day of school in August of 2017. Enrollment increased from 117 (K-8) to 151, about 27% from the prior year. Meanwhile, from that May to this May, registered parish households increased 29% and parish contributions 24%. Though operating at a six-digit deficit, the degree of deficit is shrinking. Like most other things here, it is steady but slow.
It’s encouraging to see increases around the 25% mark across our community. Though percentages cannot measure the feelings of parishioners or spirit of our interactions, I suspect that as the school goes so will the parish follow. In my mind, 200 is a solid round enrollment number that would indicate our reaching a level of self-sustenance. It is my hope to reach that number in 2020—a corresponding big round number. By then, we also plan to have our buildings and grounds in good shape and return our parish finances to a level by which we can responsibly operate.
Though the financial challenges are many, perhaps the major task has been renovating dilapidated buildings from which maintenance had been chronically deferred. Parishioners from Saint Charles, Saint Thomas More, and other communities, rallied to address them one by one. Rolling up our sleeves, we took on an uninhabitable rectory—repairing foundation, regrading land, replacing roof, removing mold, rehabbing broken air systems, cleaning, painting, and donating furnishings. It added up to nearly $200,000 in improvements, all gifts. Meanwhile, we received donations to repair and replace four roofs over, and connected to, the church structure (just below $200,000) and purchase and install windows in our school (also near $200,000). Parishioners formed teams to paint and clean up the church hall and improve the parish grounds. And earlier this month we began construction to build a gathering space for our church and a parish office that will replace the old convent (current office) that is falling in. The project will cost approximately $2 million, of which we have raised nearly $1,500,000. How we care for our buildings, in some ways, reflects our care for one another and all else that has been entrusted to us.
Slowly, we are inching our way back to financial stability and seeing many signs of revitalization in worship, community relations, faith formation, social outreach, and the general spirit of our interactions. We have created a facilities report, school business plan, and parish business plan, to help us remain accountable for reaching benchmarks as we move forward. They are available to any who request them. As we look back from this May to that one, and even though we have a long way to go, we can be proud of our achievements and hopeful about the challenges we face.
This month will serve as an annual reminder of where we’ve been and where we’re going.