Catholic schools use marketing miracles to survive

After 97 years, Our Lady of Lourdes School was closing — enrollment had dwindled to just 35 children at the East Los Angeles school.

But with a new principal who knocked on doors, offered X Box video game consoles to kids who brought in a friend, and recruited families who lost their bid in a charter school lottery, the school stayed open — 132 pupils are registered for this fall.

Call it educational evangelism. Faced with declines in enrollment, Catholic schools got savvier about how to get kids into classrooms. Now, several key dioceses, including Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, have seen students trickle back to their schools over the past year, thanks in part to marketing tactics that offer hope of turning around a four-decade-long exodus across the nation.