To prove it, we'll pay the top teen headhunters at each of our 17 high schools a $5,000 tuition grant.
The student who brings in the most new enrollees at any school in the region for the 2012-13 academic year will win $25,000. If you're a freshman, that should get you to graduation. If you're an upperclassman, just gabbing with your friends about your cool Catholic school could cover your first year at college.
H. Edward Hanway wasn't kidding when he told me recently that the biggest misunderstanding about the archdiocese is that it "has a lot of money." The former Cigna CEO, who is leading the foundation charged with raising $100 million to endow Catholic education, credits Archbishop Charles Chaput with speaking more openly about money than previous church leaders.
No one is saying what happened to the fortune or how much is left. Parishioners seeking confirmation in the release of balance sheets know that's unlikely. Churches are not required to file financial documents with the IRS.
Without getting into details, Chaput used an interactive televised town-hall meeting Thursday to tell eighth to 12th graders that cash will dictate their fate.
"If it were up to me, I'd be building high schools everywhere," Chaput said. "But it takes money, and that's something I don't have."
Chaput warned the students that academic life as they know it depends on dollars.
"We've got to fill empty seats," he implored. Beyond that, families and the faithful must dig deeper to subsidize schools, since "even paying full tuition only covers 60 percent of our costs."
Beyond the recruiting campaign, Chaput asked alumni to "do some thinking about where they were formed." If every Catholic school grad gave even $100 to his or her alma mater every year, he noted, "what a difference that would make."
Chaput clearly connects with young people, posing for photos giving a thumbs-up and promising to wear the colorful rubber fund-raising bracelets that kids keep presenting.
When a student from Ss. Neumann Goretti High asked about the long game, the cleric challenged the young man to think big.
"You may be a rich millionaire . . . able to support a school by yourself," Chaput said, only half joking. "We'll expect you to do that."
After the exaltations, I asked the archbishop about how he feels focusing more on finances than faith.
"Money makes the mission possible," he told me without hesitation. "I never feel embarrassed talking about it. We have to. This is an expensive proposition."
Chaput didn't say who came up with the idea to pay students to recruit friends and family, but he did share that "I suspect many kids don't see themselves as having a role in keeping the schools going."
I also suspect they don't, and for good reason.
The financial incentives are creative, but it's unfair to burden teens with as tall a task as keeping their English teacher employed or the lights on in homeroom.
Being in high school is hard enough without having to solve problems caused, and exacerbated, by adults. Plus, given the average archdiocesan student's homework and extracurriculars, who has time to make sales calls?
Contact Monica Yant Kinney
at 215-854-4670, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.