When I came to this meeting it wasn’t to receive this plaque. It really was to find out what the Leadership Roundtable is all about. I’m going to accept this award on behalf of all of the principals, administrators, teachers, volunteers, staff, particularly in our Jubilee schools and in all of our schools because they are the ones who looked at the vision of what we were trying to do and decided to step up to make it happen.
Let me just give you a little flashback on it, it was not as easy as it seemed. I think there was one point where we were talking about closure of schools, particularly our high schools. We had too many Catholic high schools in the city of Memphis, but we said we are not in the mode of closure. We have to do better marketing. That’s when we were talking about change of leadership in the school office, and I was saying that I want a new paradigm. I wanted to move away from the old paradigm of just maintaining schools that were in locations where they were affordable, and closing them where they were not affordable, but still needed. That’s not the Catholic way. Ours is to go out, and to proclaim, and to make people better and I was not going to allow us to build new schools in suburbia while closing them in the inner city areas. That’s not who we are as Catholics. We have to live out our Catholic role, we have to be going out to proclaim. We have to bring the gifts that we have to people who need our resources, who need our talents. The Catholic Church is good in education. I said I would not rest until that was accomplished. Then the night after I had written that article, I said “My God, what did I say?”
Sure enough, folks called and said, “Are you serious?” And we answered “Yes, we’re serious.” They asked if they made this possible, would we do it. I told them that we would. That’s when Dr. McDonald hopped in on the scene and we met with the anonymous donors. We started off with one school and they said they would help out with that. Then they came back to us and said we heard you had closed several schools in the diocese. They asked how many there were to which we said six. The asked if they made it possible would we be willing to open the school and we said yes, in a heartbeat. Then we had Dr. McDonald give them all the figures and what would we need to be done with that and we worked and we said okay we had heard this before, and we did not want any IOU’s or credit cards. We wanted cash on the line. They said okay. From there we started moving, we opened all six schools, they set up a scholarship fund for us, and whatever it would take to retrofit the building because some of them have been closed for thirty years. We would have funds for that, and as the students came online for each grade, they would handle that.
Then it moved to us creating a partnership with them, so it was not the diocese per say, but it was the group that was operating that. I think the turning point for us was when a group from the University, who are now young adults and working, called themselves the Blue Streak from one of the Jubilee schools, and decided to offer and create scholarships for the Jubilee schools. It started with about 5 of them. They were looking to do one scholarship per year. Now this has grown to about 300. This to me was when it turned over and the people took over. The people decided this is what we wanted, and this is how we are going to make it work. We then put in place people who were good and talented and could do the work. They could do the managing of the funds, they could go out and do the marketing, and they could make sure that the budgets of the schools were operating correctly. But we didn’t stop there. We said if we are teaching the kids that are coming from poor areas, what happens when they go back home again. So we decided this was going to be more than a kiddy school, it was going to be with the parents also. So we got the parents involved in the teaching of our schools, with the guidelines that we have provided for them and also with the idea of training them so they could get their GED’s so they could get better jobs. The student moved from grade to grade, the economy of the parents could move up more, so they could pay more and more and that’s how the process is working.
I am proud to say that just this past May we went to one of the Jubilee schools, 22 are graduating and they are going to Bishop Burns, Memphis Catholic, IC, or one of the other schools. All of them are staying within the Catholic School System and moving up. We go to the mayor and to the people in Memphis and say we have something good. We have developed good Catholics, good Christians, good citizens, and good future tax payers. How do they lose on that? Our whole point as a Church was not to do it just from a business point of view, but also from a spiritual point of view. As a Church, this is how we do evangelization and believe me, it’s working. There are some who are coming into the Church.
Let me tell you a quick story. One of the teachers took one of the kindergarten classes to our county fair. The teacher took them to a place where there was a lady teaching people how to arrange flowers. The children sat there fascinated. The lady engaged them in conversation and asked where they were from. The children answered, “We are from St. Augustine’s. We go to school there.” They said to the lady, “You know, you are just like our pastor he can change things around like you can. The lady asked, “What can your pastor do?” The children said, “Our pastor can take bread a wine, and turn it into the body and blood of Christ.” If that’s not evangelization for you, I don’t know what is.
Our goal continues because we are trying to create one Catholic school system throughout all of Memphis so that students can go in from wherever they are and move on and be educated. That’s our goal.