Couple works to strengthen Catholic schools

Michael and Patty Morrisey now spearhead a pilot program addressing the need for long-range strategic planning in Catholic schools.

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Even as the former Catholic Education Foundation team of Michael and Patty Morrisey continue working with its new executive director Bill Kirk to ensure a seamless transition, the couple has already started a new project under the auspices of the Catholic schools office of the archdiocese.

The couple, parishioners at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, will be working in cooperation with superintendent Kathy O’Hara and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to help schools in underserved areas enhance their potential to achieve self-sustainability.

“Catholic schools across the country have been facing challenges with enrollment and finances,” said O’Hara. “Last year, at this time, the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) sponsored a session on these very topics.

“It was hosted by Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education, and, at that conference, there were a couple of presentations that talked about different ways to approach this problem.”

But these presentations only brought into focus something the archdiocese had already been working on: the need for schools to use strategic development plans to help them become more self-sustaining.

“My earnest desire is for all our Catholic schools to thrive,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Our rural Catholic schools are important — not just to Catholics, but for the vibrancy of the entire community.

“Catholic schools are especially important in our urban-core parishes, where young people are threatened by violence, drugs and other challenges that impact even more economically poor communities.”

The success of CEF under the Morriseys’ guidance, combined with their business acumen and intimate knowledge of archdiocesan schools, made them the perfect choice to spearhead a pilot program addressing this need for long-range strategic planning.

And though not officially titled, their new endeavor has come to be known as the pilot sustainability program.

“We identified a select number of schools [for the pilot],” said O’Hara. “To help them, the three areas that Michael and Patty are going to be focusing on are leadership development, fund development and enrollment.”

It is a natural transition for the Morriseys.

“With CEF, they were creating opportunities to send more disadvantaged youth to Catholic schools,” said CEF board chair Joan Wells. “Now, they are consulting with and strengthening those very schools.”

Knowing the schools through their CEF experience, Michael Morrisey believes he and Patty are most suited to help them become more successful in the areas identified by the archdiocese.

“All of our schools are doing some good things,” he said. “What we want to do is enhance what they’re currently doing.”

Morrisey knows from experience that future success begins with a sound board or council.

“So, we are working to create active boards comprised of good business people that can bring time, talent and treasure to each of these schools,” he said.

And the Morriseys have the perfect model to emulate.

“The CEF board was incredibly well-selected, well-assembled, high-functioning and very effective,” said Wells. “So, I think Michael will be able to take that kind of ‘secret sauce’ of what he has done with the CEF board and then, moving forward, look at how to do that same type of thing in the schools.”

“We’re working to create a committee structure within each of these situations,” said Morrisey. “It goes from having the right board with the right mindset, moves into fundraising and from fundraising to enrollment.

“If it’s done that way we can help these schools increase their enrollment, and that’s the ultimate goal.”

The pilot program began last August when the Morrisey team met with principals, board chairs and pastors.

“We’ve had meetings with every school to introduce what we’re doing in general terms,” explained Morrisey. “Now, we’re taking it by pieces and the first piece is board/council development.

“So we’re making presentations to the respective schools and boards on what this is all about and how we’re proposing to do it.

“And then [it’s] on to fundraising and development and enrollment — all of that is going to come from the board once it is enhanced.”

The pilot will run through May of this year and then be evaluated for implementation in other schools.

The future prospects could be far-reaching.

“The thing that I’m most excited about is that what we’re doing with this pilot is unique across the country,” said O’Hara.

“And if it’s successful,” she added, “then I believe we will not only help our own local Catholic community, but it may have implications for Catholic schools in a broader context.”

And it all begins with two angels among us willing to continue their commitment to Catholic education.

“I am thrilled that Michael and Patty Morrisey are sharing their expertise and skills to help these schools take the necessary steps to insure a bright future,” said Archbishop Naumann.

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