December 9, 2010 in Washington Voices

Cataldo Catholic School becomes nonprofit

School remains part of Spokane Diocese
By The Spokesman-Review
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Cataldo Catholic School has become a nonprofit organization, making it the only Catholic school in Spokane with a nonprofit status.

Bishop Blase Cupich granted the formal permission for the change in late November, and the school has since been working through the process of finalizing the registration with the state and electing a lay board of directors.

The school remains part of the Spokane Diocese, and will follow diocesan policies. What is different is that the new board will be able to change school policy, not just offer advice on it, and that liability issues will be separated.

“It’s really not a bankruptcy issue; it’s one of local control,” said Shelley Szambelan, president of the Cataldo board of directors, referring to the bankruptcy of the Spokane Diocese.

For instance, Szambelan explained, the parishes could decide to get out of the school business, leaving the school and its students hanging.

“It’s my understanding that happened with a smaller Catholic school. This way the parents have better control over the school,” said Szambelan.

Another issue is the separation of liability. Under the old structure, if something catastrophic like a wrongful death lawsuit was to happen, the parishes would have had to foot the bill Szambelan explained.

“The school of course has insurance and everything, but in a catastrophic situation the parishes would be vulnerable,” said Szambelan, “and that’s what made this move attractive to them. Now the school’s liability is separate from the parishes.”

Cataldo Catholic School was established more than 100 years ago by the Rev. Joseph Cataldo, who founded Our Lady of Lourdes parish school in 1888. That school became the origin of Cataldo, which was joined by Sacred Heart and St. Augustine parish schools in 1972. The school serves about 300 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade at 455 W. 18th Ave. at the St. Augustine campus.

Pastors from the three parishes began developing the constitution and bylaws for the new school structure last spring, together with an interim board of directors.

Cataldo’s new constitution requires the board to include one pastor and six to 10 so-called community directors who must be Catholics and come recommended by their pastors.

The bylaws also require that each of the three member parishes must be represented on the board and that at least three community directors not have children currently enrolled at Cataldo.

“With regard to the parents of our students, the witness of Catholic faith and life by members of the board will foster the ecclesial communion of the school with the parishes,” wrote the Rev. Mark Pautler, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in a statement. “Cataldo manifests the commitment of our parishes to evangelize our children. Our non-Catholic families come to Cataldo seeking more than an education for their children. They also seek spiritual and moral formation based upon our Catholic faith.”

The Rev. Robert McNeese of St. Augustine Parish is the pastor on the board.

“Cataldo took this step because it made sense for our situation,” Szambelan said. “Being a multi-parish school with three busy priests jointly in charge sometimes made final decision making a long process. It also wasn’t clear where the proverbial buck stopped. Now, however, the process is more streamlined and parents have a governing role, not simply an advisory role.”

Cataldo formerly had a school advisory council comprised of parents that consulted priests on policy matters. Szambelan emphasizes that the new structure doesn’t make it possible for a potential majority of parents to make the school secular.

“We are bound by Diocesan policies and have pastoral and diocesan representation on the board,” said Szambelan. “To the degree that there is a diocesan policy on something, we follow that, but the policy is a floor not a ceiling: we can do better in localizing that policy, but we can’t take away from it.”

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