The Archdiocese of New York has announced that it plans to close 27 schools serving 3,652 students, or 7 percent of its student population. I realize that Catholic school closings have become commonplace, but I don't recall another announcement of this magnitude (Perhaps you do?).The many factors behind the demise of Catholic schools include changing demography, shrinkage of religious teaching orders, rising costs, high tuitions, the withdrawal of many people from the church, an inadequate connection with Latino Catholics and, in inner-city neighborhoods, the rise of publicly funded, foundation-backed charter schools.If there is anything good that can be said about the closing of 27 Catholic schools, it is that the archdiocese seems to have a workable strategic plan for keeping the remaining ones. It addresses problems that have stood out for a long time in many dioceses, including the paucity of alumni donations and lack of marketing to spread the word about the accomplishments of Catholic schools. It would also sharpen the Catholic identity of the schools; research has found that the commitment to Catholic social teachings about the common good contributes to the academic success of the schools. Whether the plan works will depend heavily, in my opinion, on the human element. If it is implemented in a very top-down way focused on preserving authority, it won't work. If the larger Catholic community can once again feel a connection to its schools. maybe the plan will accomplish its difficult goals.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.