Charism inspires collaboration


Competition is what usually brings Catholic high schools together.

If they’re not waging athletic or academic battles, they’re fighting to attract the same students.

What would happen if cooperation replaced competition?

"A lot of neat things," says Tom Burke, President of Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati.

For the past couple of years Bacon has been sharing ideas, practices, and even some resources with two other schools: Oldenburg Academy in Indiana and Padua Franciscan in Parma, Ohio.

All are Catholic, all scholastically exceptional. But what makes this relationship special, Tom says, "is that we’re Franciscan." Bacon is a ministry of SJB friars, the Academy is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis, and Sacred Heart Province founded Padua.

Around their shared values has grown a relationship that benefits students financially, academically and spiritually.

Planting seeds

It started on an Assisi pilgrimage in 2015, when RB Principal Steve Schad and teacher Alicia Ausere each roomed with a teacher from Padua. (Both schools offer pilgrimages for faculty, staff, and/or students.)

"During the time off we started talking about our schools and the fact that they were both Franciscan, and the amount of similarities, and wouldn’t it be great if we could share some ideas," Steve says. "When we got back we kept the relationship going, first on a friend basis, then we contacted the Executive Vice President of Padua and two teachers who came down and got to spend a day at Bacon."

Turns out that Alicia taught at Oldenburg before Bacon. "Using Alicia as a springboard, we reached out to Oldenburg," Steve says. "That relationship has blossomed as well."

From time to time Tom and Diane Laake, President of Oldenburg Academy, would meet to exchange ideas. Two years ago, according to Tom, "We said, ‘We should do something together.’ The first year we bused faculty to Oldenburg for a joint in-service day focused in part on the Franciscan charism. This year Oldenburg faculty came to Roger Bacon for a day."

Bacon and Academy department heads gathered to brainstorm, "How do we make sure our Franciscan charism is evident in everything we do, including our teaching?" As exchanges go, "It was very, very good," Tom says.

According to Diane, "Our common charism and core values provide us many rich opportunities to enhance our shared mission of providing an outstanding Catholic education."

The next steps

Bacon’s Assisi Scholars program brought them even closer. "If students stay in the program for four years, they go on a pilgrimage Bacon pays for," Tom explains. Last year, "We had budgeted for 20 kids to go and only had 18 in our program. So we said, ‘Let’s take two kids from Oldenburg.’ So we paid for them and their Principal to go. It was a joint venture and worked out very well." For RB students, "It was a nice introduction to Oldenburg Academy."

Discussions followed – they would meet between Parma and Cincinnati – with folks from Padua Franciscan. "That started talks on what we could all three do together," Tom says.

An idea jelled when college entered the conversation.

"The Province had an arrangement with St. Bonaventure University to give two scholarships to Roger Bacon students; we’ve had kids go there basically for free," Tom says. "St. Bonaventure came down here and started talking to us," and the question was raised:

Could all three high schools do something with the college?

"We all had a conference call," Tom says, "and we ended up saying we would do a retreat next year at St. Bonaventure" for junior-year students. "We’ve got kids going from Roger Bacon, Oldenburg and Padua Franciscan," all sharing a bus to the campus. "They’ll be there during the week of the Feast of St. Francis and will celebrate the Transitus at St. Bonaventure. Each school is responsible for the bus and meals. St. Bonaventure is putting up about 40 kids; they’re conducting the pilgrimage. We’re really excited about it. It’s a way of introducing kids who might have interest in a vocation to the Franciscan Institute and letting them see another side of Franciscan life."

From Diane’s perspective, "Oldenburg Academy is thrilled to be partnering with our brothers and sisters at Roger Bacon and Padua."

According to Sacred Heart friar Fr. Allan DaCorte, President of Padua Franciscan, "It’s a great thing that’s happening. All of us are beginning to reach out of our own little boxes and try to work together for the benefit of not only our high schools but St. Bonnie’s as well."

Looking ahead

From St. Bonaventure’s standpoint, "You couldn’t have a better recruiting tool," Tom says. "This year we have three or four kids who have shown interest in St. Bonaventure." Also in the works is a $5,000 financial incentive from the college for students from Franciscan high schools.

As for the future, Steve says, "The three schools are also working at forming partnerships with the University of St. Francis [in Illinois] and Marian College [in Indiana]. Our goal is that kids who come to a Franciscan school and love that environment have some options to continue that into college."

Bacon and the Academy are also sharing outreach efforts.

"Oldenburg joins with us when we do community service in Cincinnati’s urban areas," Steve says. "We sent our entire junior class to Oldenburg to volunteer on Michaela Farm," a non-profit ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis.

"We’ve talked about where we can go from here," Tom says. "It’s interesting [to compare] our way and other schools’ ways of trying to focus on Franciscan values." As they’ve discovered, "Nobody has a lock on doing things the best way."