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CATHOLIC SCHOOLS RESTATE OPPOSITION TO ELITISM

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Throughout U.S. history, as wave upon wave of immigrants poured onto American shores, Catholic schools offered them a sense of community, while providing a quality education based upon spiritual values.

"We are recommitting ourselves to these values and goals," said Monsignor Terrence Fitzgerald, principal at Judge Memorial High School. "Our commitment is to the poor because these kids are the most vulnerable. We can be a family for them because of who we are."Fitzgerald and others involved in Utah's Catholic education system met with the press Saturday as part of the Catholic Schools for the 21st Century Program and to emphasize their commitment to Catholic education. More than 200 teachers participated in workshop sessions.

In Utah, some 3,800 students attend the nine elementary and two high schools operated by the Catholic Church. Currently, the waiting list to get into Catholic schools is 300 to 400 students per year.

How to offer a Catholic education to more and more students is a serious challenge facing the church. "Every parent ought to be able to choose to send their children to Catholic schools, not just those who can afford it," said Sister Genevra Roir, superintendent of Catholic Schools.

There is discussion about building three new Catholic schools to meet the demand, and there is also talk about year-round schools by September 1994. There is a need to enhance the amount of foundation money available for Catholic schools. "Financially, it is difficult," Roir said, "to build more schools."

Another challenge facing Catholic schools is how to reach more minority students. Currently, there are 12 percent minorities at Judge Memorial High School, while the percentage in the church is about 30 percent.

"It should be the same in the schools," Fitzgerald said. "I won't be satisfied until there is 30 percent minorities and 30 percent poor in the schools. We must make Catholic schools available to any youngster who wants to attend."

Catholic schools have changed considerably. In the past, the teachers were primarily priests and sisters trained by Catholic colleges. Today, most staff members at Utah Catholic schools are lay individuals, many trained at secular institutions of higher education.

About 80 percent of the cost of operating Catholic schools is salary and benefits. "If we were to charge full cost, we would become elite schools," Roir said, adding that educating those who can afford it is not the purpose of the Catholic education system.