May 26, 2005
Jacob Riis, the third of fifteen children, was born in Ribe, Denmark, in 1849. He worked as a carpenter in Copenhagen and then immigrated to the United States in 1870. He became a reporter for the
New York Tribune and photojournalist for the
New York Evening Sun. In 1903, Jacob A. Riis said, “Ellis Island is the nations' gateway to the promised land. In a single day it has handled seven thousand immigrants.” Great waves of immigration have come to our shores. In the last century, many people left countries such as Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland to seek a new future in this country. Today many more come from Central and South America, from Eastern Europe, from the Middle East and from Asia. It is never easy to leave your place of birth. Saying good-bye to family and to memories is bittersweet. But people move. They make changes, sometimes painful and wrenching, to find a new environment where they can rightly achieve their dreams.
For over a century, Catholic Education has found a welcome home on the campus of Bayley-Ellard in Madison. Those who came here were not disappointed. They received from dedicated teachers and staff a solid faith formation and an excellent education. One sign of the vitality of this great school over the decades has been the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Not to mention the countless men and women who have formed good, Catholic families, a gift to the Church and to society.
Today the present community that is reaping the solid benefits of Catholic education at Bayley-Ellard is rightfully saddened to bid farewell to their Alma Mater. If there were no tears, their parting would be even sadder. The history that has lead to this moment demonstrates much sacrifice and commitment. In recent years, the school has faced dwindling enrollment. This did not go unnoticed or unattended. As the Latin poet Horace once said, “Years, following years, steal something every day; At last they steal us from ourselves away.” Since 1991, the Diocese of Paterson has been actively engaged with the Bayley-Ellard community in re-visioning and attempting to grow the enrollment. Priests, religious and laypersons have formed various coalitions to stabilize enrollment and finances at the Madison School.
In 1993 and 1996, the diocesan school office, Bayley supporters and everyone who attended or staffed Bayley-Ellard watched with hope as the school put into place plans to keep the school a viable institution. Sadly the mutual goals set by the Bayley-Ellard community and the Diocese of Paterson were not met. The Diocesan Education Council continued to work with the Bayley-Ellard community. The Council made helpful recommendations. The school community worked tirelessly to fulfill its own mission. Again the goals were not met. Much support and good faith greeted each new initiative in hope for a turn around.
In the fall of 2004, another task force convened. It included people from every part of the educational and financial spectrum. Parents were a vital part of that team. Everyone realized what was needed to continue Bayley-Ellard as an independent entity. Many parents and staff at Bayley worked tirelessly, even doing in-home recruitment visits. Meetings were held. Goals were discussed. Decisions delayed. When the school asked for more time, the request was honored.
This diocese wants Catholic Education to remain an attractive option for those who would like to have it. Nonetheless, when a school can no longer attract a critical mass of students, the need becomes more imperative to find a way to provide a solid educational experience for those who remain. Every school is a part of the whole. As a diocese, we serve people, not buildings. We look to all the students whose parents choose Catholic education. We must use our resources justly and fairly. Every parent has the right to choose a Catholic school for their family’s education. Parents make great sacrifices very often to provide the gift of a Catholic education to their children. However, with the many options available, too few parents were choosing Bayley-Ellard High School. The moment came when future hopes could no longer substitute for present facts.
There is sadness and tears as a community that loves Catholic Education so much moves to different homes. It is the passing of an institution that had been able to accomplish its mission. And there is grief. It is not the end of Catholic Education for those who cherish it. Eric Hoffer, affectionately baptized ‘the longshoreman philosopher,’ once said, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” Even in this loss, we have blessings for which we are thankful. We have places for the students of Bayley-Ellard in other Catholic schools. Their needs will be met. We are offering assistance to staff members who wish to continue to serve in Catholic schools. We are committed to make every effort to engage our families and resources to ensure a future for Catholic Education. We make our own the goals expressed by Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the United States on April 16, 1979: …
we know the difficulties involved in preserving Catholic schools, and the uncertainties of the future, and yet we rely on the help of God …and zealous collaboration…so that Catholic schools can continue, despite grave obstacles, to fulfill their providential role at the service of genuine Catholic education, and at the service of [our] country. Yes, the Catholic school must remain a privileged means of Catholic education in America.