Clergy in Updstate to study Catholic education needs

Catholic priests in the Piedmont area will begin a study to determine the Catholic education needs in the Upstate, including the feasibility of establishing a Catholic high school.

In a recent letter to the priests, Bishop David B. Thompson wrote, “Many of you have stated to me that there appears to be a need and a desire for a Catholic high school in the Piedmont area. I ask that you … take on the challenge of clarifying and verifying the need to expand Catholic education in the Upstate.”

The study will include population growth, existing Catholic schools, the need for additional facilities and the possibility of school consolidation. Dr. Gay Rowzie, Director of Christian Formation for the Diocese of Charleston, and her staff will assist in the study, especially providing the diocesan criteria necessary to open a new school.

Bishop Thompson called for this study after many months of discussions with the leaders of St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville, an independent school organized by Catholic parents which opened in August 1993. The school had asked to become affiliated with the diocese as an independent Catholic school. In considering this request, Bishop Thompson consulted diocesan canon lawyers, diocesan officials, the Council of Priests, the Board of Christian Formation and the priests of the Piedmont deanery.

“I do not feel that it is in the best interest of St. Joseph’s High School or the Diocese of Charleston for me to grant this type of affiliation,” wrote Bishop Thompson to St. Joseph’s leaders.

Canon law, which governs the Catholic Church, calls for the local bishop to exercise authority over the Catholic schools in his diocese. In the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Thompson exercises this role with the assistance of the Diocesan Office of Christian Formation.

“I take very seriously my responsibilities for the education of the children in Catholic schools and I rely on my staff to help me meet these responsibilities,” said Bishop Thompson.

In the proposal St. Joseph’s High School leaders submitted to Bishop Thompson requesting affiliation as an independent Catholic school, they asked that the school be “completely independent of the Office of Christian Formation and any other diocesan structures regarding its internal management, governance, curriculum, fund raising and other programs.”

“The type of affiliation that you are requesting would not place the school under my authority as delegated to the Office of Christian Formation,” wrote Bishop Thompson in a letter to school leaders. “Therefore, I cannot grant this affiliation the Board of Trustees has requested, and its proposal is denied.”

Today, there are approximately 48,000 registered Catholic households in South Carolina, 11,000 in the Piedmont area. By the year 2003, those numbers are expected to increase to 63,000 and 14,000, respectively.

“We must provide for the needs of the growing number of Catholics in the diocese in a responsible and deliberate manner,” said Bishop Thompson. “I look forward to following the progress of the Catholic schools study in the Piedmont and receiving the recommendations of that study.”