Diocesan Pastoral Council Hears, Considers Status, Future of Catholic Schools and Charities
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
November 30, 2023
ROCKFORD—The Diocesan Pastoral Council for the Diocese of Rockford worked through a packed agenda during their regular meeting at the Diocesan Administration Center Nov. 18.
 
Bishop David Malloy began the day by celebrating Mass with DPC member Father Robert Blood concelebrating. 
 
After welcoming the new members — Aubri Bourge (not present), Anabel Rivas, Jim Ferris, Jeff McMaster, John Boreen (not present), Donna Fike, Sister M. Rose Thomas Weighner, FSGM and John Stefani — to the council, members heard about the future needs of the diocese in several areas and how those needs have been addressed in the past. 
 
Dr. Kim White, the new superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Rockford, gave a thorough and detailed overview of the status of Catholic schools. Since coming to the diocese in July, Dr. White has toured the schools in the diocese and made some preliminary assessments of her visits and compiled visioning goals based on those findings. She reported that there are 10 rural schools, 10 urban schools and 17 suburban schools in the 11-county area of the diocese. The total current enrollment of those schools is 8,555 with 2,436 in the diocesan high schools and 6,119 students enrolled in pre-k through 8th grades.  That enrollment represents a three percent overall decline from the previous year. Her presentation detailed what an excellent Catholic school looks like according to the National Standards and Benchmarks for effective elementary and secondary schools from the National Catholic Education Association.
 
Dr. White said she believes that diocesan Catholic schools can become excellent schools by utilizing and meeting those benchmarks and turn enrollments from a decline to a growth trajectory.
 
To do that, she presented three visioning goals. Those goals include:
 
1. Safe schools and facilities. Dr. White found all schools are not equal when it comes to all areas of safety, and this needs to be addressed so all Catholic schools are outfitted with secondary fences, bullet resistant window film, mantrap entry doors, panic buttons, high quality security cameras with 100 percent coverage, high quality hand radios with dedicated FCC licensed channels and Raptor visitor management system.
 
2. Centers of excellence. Catholic schools need to build on what they do best with the potential expansion of curriculum tracts including expanding dual language immersion schools, STEM schools, schools with embedded learning support, liberal arts academies, humanities, performing arts and vocational studies and a seven year dual credit program.
 
3. Evangelization; expanding the flock and investing in the future. Diocesan education needs to address the consequence of the Invest in Kids Act being being ended by the State of Illinois; be more intentional in outreach to Hispanic students and families and to families who want to opt out of public schools that are failing to partner with parents, especially in the area of curriculum, academic priorities, and family values. This work begins with building long-term and financially viable tuition assistance and scholarship funds to serve the needs of these and other communities. “By reason of their evangelization mission, Catholic schools should be accessible to all people who desire a Catholic school education for their children,” Dr. White said. 
 
After lively discussion about schools, DPC members heard another presentation from director of Catholic Charities, Cathy Weightman-Moore, who outlined the long list of programs in her department and her visioning goals for present and future programming.
 
Programs and services provided by Catholic Charities include counseling, long-term care ombudsman, pregnancy and parenting services, post-adoption search, refugee resettlement, immigration services, emergency assistance, bilingual outreach, St. Elizabeth Center, Project Hire, human trafficking and domestic violence and mental health ministry. 
 
To meet these ever-increasing needs and expand services to all areas of the Rockford Diocese, Weightman-Moore says she and her staff have identified these visioning goals:
 
1. Expansion of social services to more areas of the diocese. There is currently no physical Catholic Charities office space in the Freeport and Sterling Deaneries so there is a need to explore utilizing parish space, and the agency needs to increase outreach to the Spanish speaking population of the diocese and increase one-time or intermittent services.
 
2. Expand Mental Health Ministry. Mental Health Ministry should be expanded and offered to more parishes; increase training and support to ministry teams and expand mental health training to other diocesan entities such as schools, ministry formation programs, diaconate, etc.
 
Following the presentations, council members discussed the information and offered concerns and questions to Bishop Malloy, Dr. White and Weightman-Moore. 
 
It was the consensus of the members that the information provided to the council should be shared throughout the diocese, both the good and wide-reaching work being done by the diocese for all people, not just Catholics, along with the need to accomplish the vision for growth and expansion of 
the programs offered.
 
Council members repeatedly said, “We (the diocese) need to tell our stories. People need to know what the diocese does.”
 
Those serving on the DPC serve for three years and address matters of pastoral concern that Bishop Malloy raises along with any concerns the bishop may invite the Council itself to surface. Members represent all areas of the diocese; priests, deacons, laity, religious and young adults.
 
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