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Diocese not doing itself any favors in handling of Cathedral

Date: 11/25/2014

I spent seven years working in public relations and know the best way to deal with a controversy is to get ahead of it. Stand up before a group of reporters and talk. If you’ve been caught doing something wrong, apologize and seek ways to repent. If you’re involved in a difficult decision, invite your opponents into the process and speak with them.

Of course, the people who employ you seldom take that advice.

The American people love to forgive people who are willing to take their lumps. They are willing to work with people with a different point of view if there is a real commitment to compromise.

The fact that no one representing the diocese turned up at a meeting about the fate of Cathedral High School conducted by supporters of the school on Nov. 20 has not helped the diocese’s reputation and has certainly canceled the honeymoon period of the new bishop.

I wrote about the procedure the diocese is undertaking to make a decision about Cathedral’s future by Christmas and I received a statement from Mark Dupont, the diocese’s press spokesperson, that was sent on Nov. 20 after the meeting took place. Dupont wrote in answer to why the diocese was not represented, “That process is now underway and we want to respect the integrity of that process by not deviating from it.  In fact we invited the Thursday meeting organizers to send us the names of 15 community representatives to take part in this facilitated dialogue and to bring with them the collective thinking of the East Forest Park and extended Springfield community. Bishop believes strongly they, like all parties, have a right to be heard in this process.”

Okay, fine, except this is still not the way to encourage good feelings with people who are very concerned about Cathedral’s fate. Ideally you need to meet people halfway by attending their meeting.

Dupont continued, “It is important to note that far from being an adversary, the diocese and its generous parishioners from throughout Western Massachusetts have been the number one financial backer for Catholic secondary education, in the case of Cathedral High School providing more than $11 million in just 15 years. As we no longer have the resources to continue that level of underwriting, it is now critical to have a reasoned process focused on finding solutions.”

If you don’t want to be seen as an adversary – which they are – here’s a word to the wise: don’t call the diocese’s support of Catholic education more important than those of the parents who may be working multiple jobs in order to send their child to a Catholic school.

The diocese has also placed information about Cathedral  at for the public to view and consider.

One graph caught my eye. It shows the drop in attendance that has steadily taken place since 1983-1984. One would have thought that by the mid-1990s someone at the diocese would have said, “What’s happening?” Perhaps someone did. What steps were taken?

Look at all of the changes in the area since that time. In the mid-1980s we still had manufacturers like United Technologies/American Bosch providing hundreds of jobs. Our middle class was healthier. Young people were staying in the area because there were more opportunities.

Springfield, like Chicopee and Holyoke, were different places.

Now we are seeing changes in our Gateway Cities that should help to rebuild the middle class, a group that could afford to pay thousands of dollars a year for private religious education. Honestly, though, a revived middle class could be the better part of a generation away.

Is that too late for Cathedral? Oh, yes. We’ve got until Christmas to come up with a plan to address a problem that has been in the works for 20 years.

The diocese has made it clear it cannot subsidize Cathedral any longer. Unless there can be a sustainable model found, let’s face it, Cathedral will be just a memory. This is the key make it or break it point here.

The diocese might want to consider working with Cristo Rey network, a group of 26 schools in 17 states that serves 9,000 students. Ninety-six percent are students of color, according to its website,, whose average family income is $34,000. They have a different model, which appears to be delivering Catholic education with impressive results.

Innovative approaches and working hand in hand with Cathedral’s supporters might preserve the school for the generations to come. We will know in just a few weeks.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.