By Jenelyn Russo     6/21/2021

Last month, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Orange, Dr. Erin Barisano, participated as a panelist in a webinar series sponsored by the Program of Church Management at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, titled Building a Transparent & Accountable Church. Barisano lent her voice to the series’ final installment, Financial Transparency for Catholic Schools, a talk that addressed the challenges that Catholic schools face and some principles for best practices. 

The international webinar was moderated by the president & executive director at the Global Institute of Church Management and former chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, Pia de Solenni. Barisano was joined on the panel by headmaster of The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, Alvaro de Vicente and the headmistress at St. Angela’s Girls’ School in Kitui, Kenya, Angeline Musyoki.  

The panelists began by sharing some of the challenges their schools have faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, touching on common points of financial factors, protocol implementation and support of families in the community, as well as the level of creativity that has emerged in response to these challenges.  

Barisano acknowledged that a turning point for Catholic schools locally in the Diocese of Orange was the ability to open campuses and welcome students back in person last September, a move that has not only allowed for growth in enrollment, but levels of academic achievement that have essentially closed the gap in any learning loss from the prior spring. 

While each panelist represented a different school structure and governance model, the common message centered around mission, and Barisano was pleased to see the conversation reflect what she believes should be the main focus when discussing financial transparency in Catholic schools. 

“When we are talking about Catholic institutions, particularly our Catholic schools, we can’t separate our business practices without talking about mission,” said Barisano. “It’s our responsibility, because of the mission of the Church and the mission of Catholic schools to educate students, not only to be successful in this life, but more importantly, to lead them to heaven. As business people, or as leaders, we’re held to a higher standard. Financial transparency is part of that. If you have that commitment to mission and are so clear and consistent, that financial transparency follows.” 

Headmistress Musyoki shared of families bartering animals and crops to the school in Kenya in exchange for their children’s Catholic education, a story that resonated with Barisano and is a reminder that the ideals of faith formation, academic excellence and service are international in scope. 

“It was really powerful for me to hear from school leaders in very different environments,” said Barisano. “It’s beautiful to hear about that mission of Catholic education around the world. My takeaway was a deeper appreciation on a wider perspective for this universal mission of Catholic education.” 

As daily challenges and crises continue, Barisano echoed the other panelists in acknowledging the importance of Catholic education in providing a values-based safe space, both physically and emotionally, for children in their most formative years, as well as the importance of sharing this message world-wide. 

“What an honor for me to be able to speak on behalf of our diocese and represent our diocese to this international audience,” said Barisano. “It makes me so proud and humbled at the same time to be able to be that voice.”