Private Catholic schools, those bastions of tradition, are looking toward a new day.
The Diocese of Stockton will partner with experts from Notre Dame University to review its schools and its outreach, looking for ways to not just survive, but thrive, as one team member put it.
Recession-era finances figure in, but Bishop Stephen Blaire said the real push for change comes from a greater need: mending a torn social fabric.
"Our schools are one of the really good things we do as a church," he said. Church schools have a role to play in changing hearts and empowering minds, to break the cycle of poverty, gangs and violence, Blaire said.
It's a tall order one that Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education is committed to meet. ACE seeks out communities with high numbers of Latinos, said Kathleen Carr, director of planning and operations for ACE Consulting. The church sees the Latino community as among its most devoted churchgoers, but underrepresented in Catholic schools.
The Stockton Diocese is one of six projects the Notre Dame-based service is assisting nationwide.
Latinos make up more than half of the 250,000 Catholics served by the diocese, which stretches from Lodi to Turlock, Twain Harte to Tracy. The diocese runs 11 kindergarten through eighth-grade schools schools, including St. Stanislaus and Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto. Schools in Turlock and Patterson are both named Sacred Heart.
The diocese has two high schools Central Catholic in Modesto and St. Mary's in Stockton.
The ACE team will review the diocese's elementary schools beginning in February, with a report expected in late July, Carr said. The team looks at school governance, staff training, operations and community makeup for each school, she said.
The team sizes up grant and donation possibilities to expand scholarships. Full tuition costs roughly $4,000 a year for a child of parish members, with discounts for multiple children, and up to $5,000 a year for non-Catholics, said diocese Superintendent of Catholic Schools Tom Butler.
The ACE arrival dovetails with an internal look by a blue ribbon diocese committee headed by Michael Duffy. That group spent the past 18 months looking at ways to strengthen parish schools.
Among its recommendations: Collaborate for efficiency, promote Catholic schools across all parishes and spread the best ideas.
The next hurdle, Duffy said, was making it happen. "We're operating on a shoestring. We don't have the resources to do this. Then every prayer is answered we have Notre Dame," he said.
Blaire said the consulting team is well-positioned to help, leveraging the expertise, research capabilities and prestige of a major university.
"This will be a great blessing for our diocese," Blaire said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.