Recent reports that a large number of Catholic schools in New York City and Chicago will close at the end of the year weren’t that surprising (inner-city Catholic schools have been in financial trouble for years); but it was saddening nevertheless. For decades, these schools served as neighborhood anchors, providing an identity for communities even after Catholics left for the suburbs. It’s understandable that news of the closings has prompted so much nostalgia from former students and teachers. People need to mourn institutions that were so much a part of their lives.
At the same time, nostalgia shouldn’t prevent church leaders from making hard decisions about the inner-city school system. These schools have done an admirable job of educating and ministering to the poor, but as Maurice Timothy Reidy argued in “Needed: The Vision Thing” (April 9, 2004), the church does not have the resources to keep all of them open. Church leaders need to find ways to divert the energy that went into the creation of the Catholic school system into alternative educational ventures, such as after-school programs and extended CCD programs. What’s most important, however, is that the closings be part of a larger plan. In our next issue, Joseph O’Keefe, SJ, an expert on inner-city Catholic schools, writes that closings should be done “not haphazardly, as was often the case in the past, but strategically.” O’Keefe argues that while some schools will close, many can remain open if the church makes better use of its resources. He proposes clustering schools into regions and working with other Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to cut down on costs. These are good ideas. We hope the bishops are listening.