Although McFadden did not name schools that are on the bubble, he said that South Philly's only Catholic high school, Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School, a 2004 consolidation of St. John Neumann and St. Maria Goretti high schools, at 10th and Moore streets, is safe.
Patricia Sticco, who has been Neumann-Goretti's principal since the merger, said that besides strengthening academics such as Advanced Placement courses, "consolidation kept Catholic education alive in South Philadelphia, and the kids know that.
"It wasn't economically feasible anymore to maintain two buildings," Sticco said. "I'm not going to shortchange God on this. We've been blessed."
"But let's take North Philadelphia," McFadden said. "We have an awful lot of schools there - Roman, Hallahan, Little Flower, Father Judge, Cardinal Dougherty, St. Hubert and so on.
"Perhaps we might have three or four instead of six or seven schools in that area. Then we could have more academic offerings and more activities at each school than if we just continue limping along financially with all those schools, when our enrollment numbers are down."
Enrollment at the 20 archdiocesan high schools has declined from 58,113 in 1970, to 44,266 in 1980, to 27,659 in 1990, to 19,137 today, and in the last decade, enrollment in elementary schools run by the Archdiocese - from 81,347 in 209 schools in 2000, to 69,225 in 194 schools in 2005, to 57,537 in 177 schools in 2008, according to the Archdiocese.
McFadden, who said fall 2009 high school enrollment numbers are currently "down a little bit from what we projected," cited the emergence of free public charter schools as "hurtful" to enrollment.
"It's hard to compete with free," he said.
Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776, which has lost 50 teacher/members in recent years and has 40 of its 950 members whose teaching jobs have been cut for the fall, agreed with McFadden.
"My problem with charter schools is they open, but in a few years' time they're closed," Schwartz said. "The facade might be good. Parents think, 'Hey, I can pretty much get a private-school education without paying anything.' But free doesn't mean it's the best education they can get for their children."
Catholic high school enrollment has been hurt by the ongoing recession's job losses and job uncertainty, she said. "Parents are not going to make that tuition commitment to Catholic school until they know they won't need that $5,000 to pay the mortgage," Schwartz said.
Four charter schools opened in Philadelphia in the 1997-98 school year. In the upcoming school year, 67 charter schools will have a projected 35,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, school district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.
Sports feels the pinch
McFadden, who coached basketball during his days as a lay teacher at West Catholic, said that sports programs, a traditional mainstay of the Catholic high school experience, feel the pinch.
While "suburban school districts are building these megaplexes - 18 to 20 fields, including three artificial ones," he said, some Catholic schools in the city "don't have enough freshmen to field a decent freshman football team."
Or a competitive baseball team, said Nick Chichilitti, who resigned as baseball coach at Northeast Catholic High School for Boys shortly after being named 2009 Catholic League Red Division Coach of the Year.
The school, commonly called North Catholic, was known as the world's largest Catholic high school for boys in 1953, when it served 4,726 students. That dropped to 2,384 by 1977 and 516 by 2007.
"I left because it's a brutal situation," Chichilitti told the Daily News. "For the two years I was there, our freshman team didn't win a game. The junior varsity won, like, two.
"I had to start seven sophomores on the varsity team," he said. "That's unheard of. Most of my players were so young and so small that one coach told me, 'Your guys look like munchkins. How are you doing this?' We made it to the semifinals. I think that's why I got coach of the year."
Financial support, Chichilitti said, was as shallow as his talent pool. He saved thousands of dollars by having "a guy who owed me a favor" bring in heavy equipment to level and rehab the North Catholic baseball field, which suffered the abuse of drug activity and pit-bull fights.
After getting one of the alumni, an accountant, to set up the nonprofit North Catholic Alumni Baseball Association, Chichilitti raised more than $8,000 by running beef-and-beer and cigar-salon nights, and by raffling off donated Flyers tickets, and a $500 bat and a $500 glove that he was given by the adult men's baseball league he presides over in Montgomery County.
"We wouldn't have had bats, balls, hats, catcher's gear, helmets, road uniforms without our parents supporting those fundraisers," Chichilitti said. "I bought all the baseballs. What school doesn't buy balls for its baseball teams? That's how bad the financial situation is."
Times are also tough at Cardinal Dougherty in Olney, but Steve Carr, the baseball coach and athletic director, relies on his community-relations skills as a veteran police officer, the lifelong love of sports he gets from his dad - a baseball scout for 32 years - and a self-deprecating sense of humor that serves him well in stressful times.
Dougherty, which opened in 1956 with 2,667 students, now serves 645, only 294 of whom are boys.
"Who's doing the P.A. announcing?" Carr said. "Who's collecting the gate? Most of the time it's me, the athletic director. I'm the reserve for every kid who volunteers to work an event, then doesn't show up. The only thing I haven't done during a basketball game so far is sell a hot dog."
The '91 Dougherty alumnus laughed. "It's fortunate they have someone who loves his alma mater as much as I do," Carr said. "I've heard that some athletic directors get $100,000. I tell my wife, 'Look at it this way, hon: I got $92,000 worth of growth potential in this job.' "
Underneath the humor, Carr fights hard for the survival of Dougherty's financially challenged sports because, he said, "a Catholic school cannot survive without athletic programs."
Football is his biggest challenge. "Football is considered revenue-generating," Carr said. "But because we don't have the facilities, our expenses run almost $3,000 to put on one football home game - $1,800 to $2,200 to rent a facility for a day, plus medical staff, an ambulance and the officials."
With fewer than 700 students in the school, Dougherty doesn't have big crowds walking into the game. "Maybe we make half our expenses back," Carr said.
So despite car washes and other student fundraisers, he said, "we're forced to go to the parents, who are already making a sacrifice of $5,000 tuition, and ask them for athletic fees on top of it."
So why is Carr hopeful about Dougherty's future? Why is he busting his butt running a two-week baseball camp there for 100 bucks a kid? Why is he using "Facebook, My Space, Twitter, whatever" to get the word out about what Dougherty has to offer?
And when he interviews prospective coaches, why does he care more about "people you know in the local community who can interest kids in coming to Dougherty" than "what your offensive and defensive playbook says"?
Because, Carr said, "once a kid falls in love with his coach, once a kid comes home every day and is happy with the way he was treated at school, that's where it starts.
"You reach out into the present student body and you start to build, and the kids themselves start to believe in your programs," he said. "That is your best advertisement. Reach the kids you have. If you don't, you'll never, ever get back what you've lost over the years."
Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this report.