Father Stubna reflects on 18 years as education secretary
Father Kris Stubna is on the cusp of a major life change. He will move July 9 from his position as diocesan secretary for Catholic education to rector and pastor of St. Paul Cathedral Parish.
He recently spoke about his experiences, the state of Catholic education and the new road ahead.
You have served more than 18 years as secretary for Catholic Education for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Overall, how do you assess the past, present and future of Catholic education in the diocese?
There is no question that for the Diocese of Pittsburgh Catholic education has always been a significant priority. The call of the church to pass on the faith, to teach the faith, comes from the great commissioning of Jesus. We have always taken that seriously. For me working with Bishop Wuerl -- Cardinal Wuerl now -- and Bishop Bradley as administrator and now Bishop Zubik, I've had the chance to work with three different leaders of the diocese, and Catholic education has always really been foundational.
There is a passion here about the need to pass on the faith. When we think of the numbers of people, of our children and young people in our Catholic schools, religious education programs, home-schoolers and our youth ministry programs, we are talking close to 120,000 young people that the diocese has some responsibility for with our parishes every year. For me that's been a great challenge and a great responsibility, but a great privilege as well. Through our programs and through our efforts we are really helping to form young people, to lead them to the heart of the church, and to develop in them a real sense of faith. Those efforts are something that we can always be proud of.
But then you also think of adult faith formation and the growing number of young adults, our outreaches on the college campuses -- in particular with the numbers of young people who have been returning to the faith -- there has been a significant amount of excitement. We see some of the fruits of that in the increasing number of vocations and the numbers of young people getting involved in the church. For Bishop Zubik that has been a significant priority.
Past, present and future all merge together because Catholic education really is at the heart of the church's mission to lead people to know the faith so that they can love God more deeply and serve the church. We really have taken that call seriously.
What are the high points of your tenure as Catholic education secretary?
There are so many that come to mind, but I would say in a very particular way that Catholic schools have always played a very significant role in the life of the church. As the Second Vatican Council said, they really are the primary and most effective means that we have to form people on a daily basis. We all know how many of our Catholic school graduates have gone on to become so involved in the community and leadership in the church.
In terms of the Catholic school mission, our ability to completely change the financing policies of those schools so that they are more stable was vital. Getting all of the parishes involved in providing some financial support for Catholic schools, whether you have a school or not, is a unique program throughout the country, but it really has been fruitful.
Our effort to completely update the catechetical curriculum using the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" has been excellent. Our certification of all of our teachers so that we are really teaching the faith well has been critical. We have programs like the Golden Apple that recognizes our teachers in a significant way. The Extra Mile Education Foundation, which is our very strong commitment to the African-American, non-Catholic, inner-city, urban community -- particularly those who have great economic disadvantages -- has been hugely successful.
We have now incorporated all of our high schools with boards of directors who have taken responsibility for them. You look around and our enrollment numbers at the high school level are growing every single year.
For me one of the final touchstones is the groundbreaking for Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School because I worked on that project personally for so long. To be able to see the groundbreaking is a sign of great hope as we move into the future.
I am also very proud of the success of our parish programs of religious education and youth ministry programs that educate tens of thousands of students each year. We were the first diocese in the country to have visitations to every single parish CCD program. Bishop Wuerl brought everybody together at the convention center to celebrate the completion of that visitation. That was a magnificent highlight and speaks to the excellent quality of our catechetical efforts, including faith-filled and competent leadership, comprehensive curriculum guidelines, use of approved texts and the incredible percentage of our volunteer catechists who are certified.
We had four Total Catholic Education Conferences in the diocese at the convention center, bringing 8,000-12,000 people together so that we could really celebrate our shared vision.
We were the first diocese in the country to promulgate policies for home-schooling families that made them really feel welcome and part of the church. They have been the model guidelines for the country.
One of the other highlights is the Bishop's Education Fund, which we began in 1995 with very little, and we now have almost $20 million in an endowment to help students. The Earned Income Tax Credit program that began in 2000 has generated over $40 million in tuition aid. The need is so great that we have got to continue to work at that.
What have been the low points?
Our southwestern Pennsylvania region has faced such serious declines in the number of school-age children, and that's required us to close some schools, which is extremely painful. Trying to help people through that process, helping them to understand why we are doing it, hasn't always been easy, and there is always sadness when you have to close schools. Economically, the challenges have been great.
During your tenure, you implemented in the schools the diocesan safe environment policies for children.
With our safe environment policies, there are many other requirements in terms of certifications and physical safety. We live in a world, unfortunately, that has changed over 18 years. I have seen it just in my time.
The protection of our children and youth has been a significant priority for the diocese. Those policies are so important and only enrich what we do. This has become a critical priority. But to make that happen day to day is a huge investment of time and energy and effort. It has made the jobs of all of us, particularly the administrators in our schools and CCD programs, far more challenging and far more difficult. It has created a more challenging environment so that we can be sure that our programs are really what they need to be.
We have raised the bar. Anybody who really wants to be involved in ministry and in helping to form young people, there are far greater responsibilities that come with that call. It is a call from God to do something, but it does require great things of us. And I think that is what we have to keep looking at.
Do you find that people value Catholic education as much now as when you first started?
As a whole, that is the one joy of being in a position like this because you have a tremendous commitment from the Church of Pittsburgh to the overall value of Catholic education. I don't think that has changed. I find that the priests are just tremendously supportive and realize the impact and the importance of making every effort that we can, especially with our children and young people.
I do think the challenges are greater today. The cost is much higher, and economically when you struggle, those are just difficult decisions and problems to face.
One of the growing challenges is convincing parents, in the world in which we live, that there is no better investment you can make in your children than giving them the opportunity for a Catholic education. It will really affect their whole life. It isn't just the education of the mind. We're talking about the education of the heart and soul and creating a person who is holistically formed in the image of Jesus. Catholic schools and religious education programs can do that.
With costs increasing so much, is Catholic school tuition getting too high, especially for middle-class families?
The reorganization of our schools will keep the cost affordable so that our schools will be accessible to as many people as possible. There won't be as many schools and they may not be right in your back yard. But we brought parishes together so that more of the parishes in a region are supporting Catholic education. That's a plus. More of our priests are involved in a real way in supporting the schools. That's going to be a benefit.
In the two recent regionalizations that we just accomplished in the East End, in Forest Hills and in McKeesport, the tuition went down significantly because we were able to be far more cost-effective. We are able to have more educational and extracurricular programs, and both schools are going to be jam-packed with kids. I think that's the wave of the future -- to pull our schools together so that they can operate more efficiently and keep those tuitions affordable.
Parents want to send their kids to Catholic schools, but when they perceive it as being too costly they can't. By keeping the cost affordable and providing more tuition aid, we are making it possible for families to make that choice.
What are your hopes for your new position as St. Paul Cathedral rector and cathedral parish pastor?
For me this is quite a transition -- to move from 22 years in central administration, 18 as the secretary for Catholic education, to becoming rector and pastor of St. Paul Cathedral. I think for every priest there is that hope in our heart that one day we can become a pastor. I've been in administration a lot longer than I would have expected, and it has been rewarding and joyful. But I'm really excited about Bishop Zubik's invitation and appointment to become a pastor, especially at the mother church of the diocese, and to be able to take responsibility now for a parish community.
In moving there I certainly will find it difficult to leave this position. I will always have a great passion for Catholic education, a great love for teaching the faith. I have learned a lot here. I have become a better priest. I have met so many tremendously gifted and faith-filled people. I will carry that with me. That, for me, will be the blessing and the reward of all these years. We all have to work as a church and a diocese to be sure that our Catholic educational ministry continues to be a priority.