Making Parishes Home Sweet Home

Parish-Based Homeschool Cooperatives for the Next Academic Year and Beyond

John Kingdon proposed that public policy change comes about when the three streams of problems, policies, and politics come together at the same time.1 Roman Catholic Church parishes stand a chance of undergoing significant change as the three streams of problems, policies, and parish priests converge at the beginning of the 2020 academic year. It would be just the type of change that Pope Francis wants for parishes.

Problem, Policy, and Parish Priest

The problem in our situation is not necessarily a bad thing. The sudden emergence of the coronavirus this past spring meant that many schools sent their students home and moved to an online modality of teaching. That experience earlier this year of dad and mom functioning as the classroom moderator and the numerous school districts announcing their intention of continuing Internet-based instruction this fall has led many families to consider homeschooling their children.2 Those parents who do make the decision to homeschool will soon seek outlets for their children to have social interactions as part of their education or something extra-curricular. Inevitably, groups of families will also form small communities to support one another in this new venture.

The policy comes from the Congregation for the Clergy, which published on June 29th an instruction entitled “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church.”3 This document declares at the outset that “the current Parish model no longer adequately corresponds to the many expectations of the faithful.”4 To resolve this issue, the document reiterates Pope Francis’ vision of a parish as a “community of communities” with the parish priest as the shepherd.5 Recognizing that bureaucracy often impedes true evangelization, the instruction calls for a “conversion of structures” at the parish and diocesan level with a goal of “missionary reform of pastoral action.”6 In a word, the Holy Father asks parish priests to be creative. “Pope Francis . . . recalled the importance of ‘creativity,’ meaning thereby ‘seeking new ways,’ that is ‘seeking how best to proclaim the Gospel’.”7

The parish priest stream in Kingdon’s model remains unanswered thus far because we do not yet know how pastors will respond to the current circumstances. Given the problem of an unprecedented number of families choosing to homeschool their children and the policy of the new Vatican instruction, various solutions might be used at the parish level. One of the more exciting proposals for pastors to consider in these unprecedented circumstances would be to start a parish-based homeschool cooperative.

Parish-Based Homeschool Cooperatives

A homeschool cooperative is a community of families that meet together with some pre-arranged frequency to achieve commonly held educational goals for their children. The range of goals varies from one homeschool cooperative to another. Some homeschool cooperatives merely organize extra-curricular enrichment activities to give their children social interaction opportunities. Other homeschool cooperatives meet once or twice a week so that parents with a background in a particular specialty, physics or music perhaps, might offer tailored classes for the children of that community. A few homeschool cooperatives meet every day, thus resembling a public or private school on a much smaller scale. Homeschool cooperatives, then, give an alternative to parents who choose to educate their children at home without the pressure of feeling that they have to do it all alone.

In our context here, a homeschool cooperative functions as an entity separate from the parish, yet all of the families within the community have a strong connection to the parish and use the parish’s resources. This arrangement is no different than other parish groups such as the Knights of Columbus, Altar Guild, or scouts. The parish priest is never the Grand Knight, Altar Guild President, or Scout Master, but he may choose to participate as much or as little in the lives of those organizations, depending upon the needs of the parish and the priest’s availability. Such groups typically have use agreements with the parish on using parish halls, kitchens, and outdoor space for meetings, socials, and even fundraisers. Therefore, just like these other communities within the parish, the pastor primarily shepherds and accompanies the homeschool cooperative with spiritual leadership, but he may even decide to get involved to the point of offering some theology or philosophy courses to the students. Nonetheless, the community of the homeschool cooperative families, not a priest, holds the responsibility of administering the group.

Part of the independence of homeschool cooperatives means that the community would decide whether or not to attend daily Holy Mass. Nonetheless, students of the homeschool cooperative that do attend Holy Mass regularly may decide to take advantage of advanced training in altar serving. The regular presence of the young people and their families at the parish on weekdays offers the pastor additional opportunities to lead them in other Catholic liturgies and traditional devotionals such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Holy Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the Stations of the Cross. The students of a homeschool cooperative have the potential to form the core of a youth choir for Sunday Holy Masses and other solemn celebrations. Further, and very close to the heart of Pope Francis, the parish priest, in conjunction with the homeschool cooperative administration, might organize for the students corporal works of mercy for the poor, marginalized, and needy of the local community. Finally, since the students will most likely eat at least one meal together during a day at the parish, the pastor might choose to eat with them. No doubt, all these interactions with the parish priest sow seeds that sprout in priestly, religious, and married life vocations with a mission towards evangelization.

A parish-based homeschool cooperative also leads to better stewardship of the parish resources. The homeschool cooperative uses the faith formation classrooms that typically sit empty during normal school hours. Parishioners with free time often volunteer to teach full courses or seminars on their area of expertise, and some offer to do mundane work related to the cooperative as a way to support the families and children with whom they worship on Sunday. Additionally, financial giving to the parish increases as everyone knows and sees how the parish has a direct influence on the lives of young people. At the same time, since the homeschool cooperative is not a parish school under the auspices of the local church, the parish has no financial responsibility to keep it going.

Homeschool Education

Today, homeschool cooperatives have numerous curriculum options from which to choose that are rigorous and faithful to Church teaching. Catholic schools like Kolbe and Queen of Heaven Academy, to name only a few, even offer online instruction packages so that parents do not have to be the teachers but merely the moderators of classes. This latter option proves popular with immigrant families whose parents want the best for their children, but often do not have the language skills or the knowledge to teach. Nearly all curriculum programs nowadays provide a transcript to students at the end of their studies. This service proves helpful for homeschooled students that intend to pursue postsecondary studies. While in the past some universities and colleges may have treated homeschool graduates with suspicion, that mentality has changed over recent decades due to the academic excellence of so many of those same homeschooled students.

For more information on homeschool cooperatives, a simple Internet search will return a plethora of material for consideration. To talk to someone local, a good beginning would be to research already existing homeschool cooperatives in the area. The Home School Legal Defense Association advocates for homeschooling families, and with attorneys in every state they know homeschooling law for every location.

Community of Communities

Facilitating a homeschool cooperative in the parish presents itself as a powerful idea for pastors to respond in creative ways to the increase in the number of families that have chosen to homeschool their children this academic year and the Congregation for Clergy’s call for parish conversion to a spirit of missionary evangelization. A homeschool cooperative community sees the parish as the center of their lives, and as other parish groups participate in the life of the homeschool cooperative, the vision of a parish as a “community of communities” is fully realized. With a homeschool cooperative, the parish becomes a familiar meeting point for families, especially their children. Those children begin to shift their understanding of the parish from merely as a space where Catholics pray to the place where they learn, mature, and be Catholic. That type of evangelizing impact on families establishes the Faith as a deep and enduring root for the rest of their lives. That is the type of creative parish conversion that Pope Francis would want.

  1. J.W. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984).
  2. For example: Hanna Merzbach, “Many Oregon families shift from public school to homeschool during pandemic: Parents concerned about safety and academic uncertainty are exploring a range of options for the fall.” Street Roots, 26 July 2020, https://www.streetroots.org/news/2020/07/26/many-oregon-families-shift-public-school-homeschool-during-pandemic. Accessed 6 August 2020. Papst, Chris. “Homeschooling Spikes As Districts Opt For Distance Learning.” Fox 45 News, 29 July 2020, https://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/homeschooling-spikes-as-districts-opt-for-distance-learning. Accessed 6 August 2020.
  3. Congregation for Clergy, “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church,” The Holy See, 29 June 2020, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/ 2020/07/20/0391/00886.html#ing.
  4. Congregation for Clergy, “Pastoral conversion,” 16.
  5. Congregation for Clergy, “Pastoral conversion,” 27–33.
  6. Congregation for Clergy, “Pastoral conversion,” 35.
  7. Congregation for Clergy, “Pastoral conversion,” 1.
Fr. Anthony Stoeppel About Fr. Anthony Stoeppel

Fr. Anthony Stoeppel is the Vice-Rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He previously served as the Vicar General of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas as well as pastor of various parishes there.

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