A strong Catholic identity. Strong academics. Service learning opportunities.
Those are just a few of the qualities that parents and parishioners want if the Archdiocese of Indianapolis decides to build a new Catholic high school in the Columbus-Seymour area.
The archdiocese, which oversees 137 parishes and 71 schools, is studying the feasibility of locating a new high school in south-central Indiana.
It is working with 13 parishes south of Indianapolis, including St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus, to decide whether another Catholic high school is needed south of Indianapolis.
Besides the Columbus-Seymour area, the archdiocese is looking at locations in the Center Grove area, near Greenwood; Whiteland, along Whiteland Road between State Road 37 and Interstate 65; and the Bloomington area.
A focus group meeting Wednesday night at St. Bartholomew was part of a process that began last summer when Bishop Christopher Coyne, vicar general of the archdiocese, approved forming a committee to lead the feasibility study.
Committee members, working with Alan Meitler of Meitler Consultants, led a handful of small-group discussions Wednesday night, asking questions aimed at determining the need for a new high school and determining what the vision of that school would be.
About three dozen people from Columbus, Seymour, Brown County, Jennings County and Greensburg talked about the need for a strong Catholic high school in the Columbus area, according to Gina Fleming, Catholic schools superintendent for the archdiocese.
And there was a consensus, Fleming said, that Columbus would be able to sustain that kind of high school.
Kelley Snoddy home-schooled her children, who are now grown with children of their own, because there was no Catholic high school within a reasonable distance — the closest three are in Indianapolis, Madison and Clarksville.
For Seymour resident Michelle Neibert-Levine, sending her two children, a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader, to a new Catholic high school likely would not be an option. The high school probably would not be built in time for her children to be able to attend, she said.
But Neibert-Levine, the principal at St. Ambrose School, said some of the families in Seymour with younger children attending St. Ambrose “are excited about the possibility for an opportunity” to send their children to a Catholic high school.
She said those parents likely would be willing to commute to Columbus because they want their children to continue benefiting developmentally from a faith-based education and the smaller class sizes that private, religious schools often offer.
That option also appeals to Degaulle Haile, a Columbus resident whose three young children attend St. Bartholomew Catholic School.
Haile said he thinks Columbus has excellent public high schools. But as a member of St. Bartholomew, he would like the option to send his children to a school that could give them a Catholic education, he said.
When Haile and his wife decided to send their children to St. Bartholomew, it was a hard decision, he said. What separated St. Bartholomew from the other schools, he said, was that it offered a strong focus on faith and education in one setting.
That’s an opportunity he wanted to give his children because it gives them “a good base to start life from,” Haile said.
He’s happy with his choice, he said, as his kids have “never had a bad day at school” while attending St. Bartholomew. He credits his children’s experience to the education and the atmosphere at the Catholic grade school and said he thinks those are things they could continue to receive at a Catholic high school.
But Haile would want that high school to be in or near Columbus.
It’s important for him and for his family to be part of the community, he said. Driving long distances to school would mean sacrificing quality family time, activities, studying and development, he added. And that’s not something he wants to do, especially when the public schools in the area offer an excellent education.
Additionally, he said he would want to see a new Catholic high school benefit Columbus.
“I’m just really excited that this is happening,” Haile said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for Columbus.”
Writing survey questions
The archdiocese now has gathered information from four focus group meetings, having held the final one Thursday night at SS. Francis & Clare Parish in Johnson County.
Meitler will take that information and use it to finalize the questions on a survey to be sent out in September and October, according to committee member Renee Raber.
The archdiocese then will be able to determine whether there is a need for a school, how big the school would need to be and what kind of amenities it would offer, said Greg Otolski, the archdiocese’s director of communications. Then the archbishop would have the final say on the decision, he said.
If the archdiocese decides there is enough interest to continue the process, Otolski said, the next step would be looking at funding options.