In a season of unrelentingly grim tidings, last night brought some badly needed good news: The powers that be in the Brooklyn Diocese have granted a reprieve to my daughter's school, which had been "proposed" for a merger with the school of a neighboring parish. The diocese is not in the habit of changing its mind about its "proposals," so the blowback on this from both communities must have been gale-force and accompanied by fiscal leverage. "These two communities were not ready" for the merger, announced Bishop Frank Caggiano, the beleaguered point man for the Diocese's absurdly named school consolidation program, "Preserving the Vision," to surprised cheers from parents and staff of both schools gathered for an evening meeting.
The merger will happen eventually, we were told, and both communities must soon start forming committees to "move forward," hold festive joint outings, and generally sniff one another with optimistic caution about our plighted troth. It is likely that neither parish institution will get to keep its name on the newfangled "academy," under a diocesan "no-winners" philosophy of making both communities feel equally peeved. (Since our school contains the name "Jesus" and the other contains "Mary," and all the good saints are taken by other schools, this somewhat limits our options; I have suggested "St. Elsewhere Academy." Other suggestions have been pithy but not printable in a Family Blog.)
Poor Bishop Caggiano; he insists (and, I think, truly believes) that we really will have fewer but "stronger and more vibrant" Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens, once we finish closing even more of them. Despite his good news, I'm afraid I lit into him afterwards with nothing-to-lose zeal (Daughter being a few months from graduation). Having watched the parochial schools left to sink or swim by our Church leaders for the past 8 years, and having seen the trust that was shattered over the past few weeks among our heroically underpaid teachers, I ranted. I foamed. I waved my arms. By now, my rant list is long: the diocese's abysmal communications and tone-deaf timing; the lack of investment and innovation that (more than any "demographic change") has gotten some 40 schools closed already; the untried vagueness of the new "academy" model; the whole clueless mess. He bore it bravely, and even promised to call me for more "input" before I was hustled out in a straightjacket by other parents waiting to bend his ear.
I hope he will forgive my wild-eyed tirade. The past week has been a gruesome media bonanza here in Catholic Brooklyn. First, our Bishop (in chief) DiMarzio appears in a press conference next to Mayor Bloomberg acting grateful for the chance to collect city rent money by turning some waning parochial schools into public charter schools (where, as Caggiano grimly acknowledged, "you cannot speak the name of Jesus"). Meanwhile, showing that Rome gets its priorities really, really straight, the Vatican follows up its Holocaust-denying-bishop fiasco by reviving, of all things, partial and plenary indulgences.
By the time Catholic education is thoroughly "reconfigured," we will all need a few coupons for time off in Purgatory, myself foremost.
Acknowledgement: The illustrations here hijacked without permission as an allegory for Catholic school closings are by Edward Gorey from his story The Wuggly Ump, found in the collection Amphigory.