Unprecedented Study Asks, What's Next for Catholic Schools That Have Closed?
ACE Authors Say Handling Assets Wisely Can Help Today's Education Mission
Since thousands of Catholic schools around the United States have closed in recent decades, scholars at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are asking a difficult but important follow-up question: What is being done with all those vacated buildings?
The goal is to manage those important assets in a way that bolsters existing schools, according to a new book published by those scholars. Led by Catholic schools expert Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), the authors provide informed, common-sense guidance to dioceses for whom the legacy of vacant schools causes management dilemmas.
Building Assets: The Strategic Use of Closed Catholic Schools is an unprecedented aid for diocesan leaders exercising careful stewardship for the schools of yesterday and tomorrow, strengthening Catholic education as an instrument of the new evangelization. Leaders need to determine whether to lease or sell vacated assets, for example, and whether the new tenants, such as charter schools, risk making other local Catholic schools less sustainable.
"This book reveals the first major step in answering questions that have grown in urgency as the number of Catholic schools in the U.S. has sadly and sharply declined,” says Father Nuzzi. “Today’s decisions about re-purposing former schools need to take into account the Church’s overall mission, the diocese’s educational goals, and the unique circumstances of each location.”
Nuzzi and co-authors Jim Frabutt, Ph.D., and Anthony Holter, Ph.D., uncover statistics that could be representative of nationwide trends—and missed opportunities—worthy of consideration by supporters of Catholic education. The number of U.S. Catholic schools peaked at 13,292 in 1965 and was nearly cut in half by 2010, when it totaled 7,094
The book, just released by ACE Press, reports the results of an unprecedented study that focused on ten Catholic archdioceses and dioceses. In these areas that had suffered significant closures between 1965 and 2010, only 25% of the former school facilities had been sold. Even more notably, 24% of the facilities were designated as “unknown,” meaning that diocesan officials could not verify or produce valid information regarding the current status of buildings listed in their prospectus of sites. Many assets, as the authors put it, have fallen “off the radar.”
Findings like this were made possible through surveys with which diocesan officials generously cooperated, but they also emerged from a complex investigatory process. Research for this book drew upon multiple information sources, including publicly available directory listings as well as numerous interviews and site visits around the country.
The discoveries made in the participating dioceses are accompanied by research-driven recommendations pertinent to diocesan leaders across the country. Guidance from the authors includes establishing uniform policies on whether, how, and to whom buildings should be sold or leased, perhaps avoiding blanket rejection of all leasing to charter schools—lest revenue opportunities be lost—but also taking into account the costs that hasty disposals might incur for other diocesan schools or ministries.
“Caring for closed schools,” the three authors conclude, “is one way that contemporary church leaders and diocesan officials can help advance the spiritual mission of the church by increased attention to the resource these closed buildings represent.”
Building Assets: The Strategic Use of Closed Catholic Schools is available for purchase from ACE Press.
The ten arch/dioceses that participated in the survey are:
- Diocese of Brooklyn
- Diocese of Buffalo
- Diocese of Cleveland
- Archdiocese of Detroit
- Archdiocese of Louisville
- Archdiocese of Milwaukee
- Archdiocese of Newark
- Diocese of Paterson, N.J.
- Archdiocese of Philadelphia
- Diocese of Springfield, Mass.
The authors express their profound gratitude to the diocesan leaders who participated and all those colleagues in Catholic education whose contributions made this inquiry possible.
Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education collaborates with dioceses and school leaders nationwide to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools, with a special focus on under-resourced schools serving disadvantaged children. ACE forms faith-filled educators, offers numerous professional services, and cultivates innovative solutions to critical issues. The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program forms tomorrow’s leaders for Catholic schools.
Find biographical details about the authors at the websites for the Alliance for Catholic Education and the Institute for Educational Initiatives.