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The InterVIEW

New board president bullish on Catholic schools Group to provide school governance, advice to Cardinal George

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

John Croghan, chairman and founder of Rail-Splitter Capital Management, was named the chairman of the newly formed archdiocesan school board earlier this year.

Croghan, who graduated from Loyola University and served in the Navy during the Korean War, is a chartered financial analyst with a MBA from Harvard University, and he serves on a variety of corporate and civic boards. In addition to his work on the school board, he is vice chairman of the Big Shoulders Fund, which provides financial assistance to inner-city Catholic schools and their students, and he is a trustee and member of the investment committees of the Archdiocese of Chicago Finance Council, Catholic Church Extension Society, Chicago History Museum, Lyric Opera and Northwestern University. He is also on the advisory board of the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame.

He spoke by telephone with Catholic New World assistant editor Michelle Martin.

Catholic New World: The archdiocese has not had a school board before. Why do we need one?

John Croghan: There was a school board until the mid-1980s. Cardinal George had the vision to reconstitute the board with new bylaws and new membership in late 2008 and the board had its first meeting in January of this year. Like many organizations, having a board to provide guidance, direction and accountability is a positive role. The school system is at an inflection point, so it is our hope that the board will be part of making the 255 elementary and high schools in Cook and Lake counties stronger and more viable.

CNW: How much influence does the board have? Is it an oversight or governance board?

Croghan: The board is a governing board with the archbishop as president. The board serves as a governing board for the schools subject to responsibilities reserved to the archbishop and pastors. Board responsibilities include recommendations to the archbishop in strategic planning, academic performance, fundraising and finances including budgets and capital spending.

CNW: Catholic schools Superintendent Sister M. Paul McCaughey has said that we need to get all Catholics, not just parents of Catholic school children, to support our Catholic schools. How do we get all Catholics invested in schools?

Croghan: It is true the families paying tuition bear the largest share of the overall investment required to operate the schools, about 80 percent of nearly $600 million each year. However, even with additional support from the Annual Catholic Appeal and Big Shoulders for the inner-city schools, many parents still struggle to pay tuition bills.

There is no easy answer to our financial challenge. The board has identified the need for political action to obtain public funding support for our schools. For example, we are working already on such efforts as corporate tax credits like the ones in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

CNW: How would the Catholic Church in Chicago and the wider Chicago-area community be impacted if there were no more Catholic schools?

Croghan: I don’t know if that’s a road anyone wants to travel down, but in a word, it would be catastrophic. No other experience in our church comes close to offering young people more than 175 days each year immersed in a faithfilled learning environment. Our Catholic schools are places of service, community, learning and worship. As well, the wider Chicago community would see an additional billion dollars in student costs, presumably finding funding through higher taxes. We would also see declines in overall student achievement. Our graduation and college attendance rates are 95 percent, and our standardized test scores exceed national percentiles and state averages.

CNW: What immediate needs has the board identified and what strategies, if any, has it developed to meet them?

Croghan: The board is still learning about all the complexities of this school system, which is the largest of any U.S. diocese with more than 90,000 students and 7,000 educators. We are attempting to ask the right questions in order to determine the best strategies for the future success of our schools. The board is organized to work through committees, with each committee headed by a board member. The talent and commitment of the board give one optimism for the future.  

Members of the newly constituted Chicago Board of Catholic Schools

  • Cardinal George, Board President
  • John Croghan, Chairman, Rail-Splitter Capital Management, LLC, Board Chair
  • Father John Canary, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Chicago
  • Father Lawrence Dowling, Pastor, St. Agatha Parish, Chicago
  • Dennis FitzSimons, Chairman, McCormick Foundation
  • Father Michael Garanzini, S.J., President, Loyola University Chicago
  • Patrick Hackett, President, HHS Company
  • Joshua Hale, Executive Director, Big Shoulders Fund
  • Father Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., President, DePaul University
  • Ambassador James C. Kenny, Executive Vice President, Kenny Construction and President, Kenny Management Services
  • Harry Kraemer, Executive Partner, Madison Dearborn Partners
  • Jimmy Lago, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Chicago
  • Pedro Martinez, Chief Financial Officer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, Superintendent of Catholic Schools
  • Father John McDonnell, Pastor, St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, Chicago
  • Andrew McKenna, Jr., President, Schwarz Supply Source
  • Michael Mooney, Vice President, Goldman Sachs
  • Ellen Mulaney, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, Northwestern University Law School
  • James Perry, Managing Director, Madison Dearborn Partners
  • Father John Pollard, Pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Wilmette
  • Raul Raymundo, Chief Executive Officer, The Resurrection Project
  • Father Timothy R. Scully, C.S.C., Director, Institute for Educational Initiatives, University of Notre Dame
  • Cheryl Thomas, President & Chief Executive Officer, Ardmore Associates
  • Father John Wall, President, Catholic Church Extension Society
  • Edward Wehmer, Chairman, Wintrust Financial Corporation

(As announced on March 9)