Diocese Must Rebuild Cathedral High

In many ways, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski’s decision to hit the pause button with regard to the planned rebuilding of tornado-damaged Cathedral High School is to be expected. He is the new bishop for Greater Springfield and needs to be comfortable that a Catholic high school in the city is viable.

There are persistent and difficult-to-answer questions about why attendance at parochial schools has decreased in recent years — Cathedral once boasted nearly 3,000 students, and now there are just over 200 attending a makeshift facility in Wilbraham — and about whether they will ever rise sufficiently to make rebuilding Cathedral a sound investment.

And we emphasize the word ‘investment,’ because that is how this must be viewed. For the Catholic Church to continue being relevant, it must invest in Catholic education. For these reasons, we believe the bishop is approaching this exercise with the wrong mindset.

Instead of asking whether Cathedral High School has a future — which is essentially what he’s been doing since he announced last month he was reviewing the matter and not fully committing to rebuilding, despite repeated assurances to the contrary from the diocese — and determining how to answer that question, he should instead be focused on making sure Cathedral has a strong, viable future.

For inspiration, he needs only to revisit the building of the present Cathedral on Surrey Road in Springfield’s East Forest Park. Before that facility was built, attendance at Cathedral was limited, probably because of the school’s cramped, limited facilities on Elliott Street.

The new Cathedral was state-of-the-art in every way, and students from not only Springfield but also a host of surrounding communities that had just built their own glimmering new high schools (that list includes Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, and Wilbraham), and all faiths, flocked to it. By the early ’70s, there were nearly 800 students in each class, and Cathedral was synonymous not only with size, but with excellence.

Granted, times have changed, and enrollment at Cathedral has fallen precipitously in recent years. There are many theories about why — ranging from strict oversight of the school by a dogmatic diocese to limited financial assistance to families — but it’s clear that parents faced with paying nearly $10,000 a year in tuition for Cathedral or sending their children to high school in a community where they are already paying taxes are, in many cases, choosing the latter.

Building a new, smaller Cathedral isn’t about trying to relive the past, continue a tradition, honor the previous bishop’s pledge to rebuild when the high school was destroyed in 2011, or answer pleas from alums who don’t want their alma mater to be referred to only in the past tense. It’s about preserving a Catholic education and providing young people and their parents with an important option.

As we said, we can understand (almost) why Bishop Rozanski is hitting that pause button. He’s waiting for some kind of affirmation that this is the right step for the diocese to be taking. The community has responded in a resounding way, pledging millions of dollars to help with the rebuilding effort. We believe he shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

The money (from FEMA and insurance) is there to rebuild. And the sentiment is there as well, as evidenced by impassioned, controlled outrage and strong school spirit exhibited since the bishop made his announcement to put rebuilding on hold.

The time to build is now. And it doesn’t have to be the size of the former Cathedral. Plans on the table presently allow for a much smaller, more manageable high school that can easily be expanded along with increasing enrollment. The challenge is to build not just a new school, but an institution of excellence, so parents will be proud to make Cathedral their school of choice once again.

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