A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Catholic Schools Week

Last week was "Catholic Schools Week" in the United States; a program dedicated to celebrating and promoting the vast amount of good that Catholic schools have done in this country. 

I think that's all to the good--Catholic schools should be celebrated and promoted.  They are a wonderful gift. I do get a little worried, however, when the celebration and promotion takes the form of generalized contempt and pity for students who attend public school.  I am not disinterested: my father was a public school principal, I attended public school, and got a good education at public school.  And I know lots of fine, upstanding Catholics who also attended public school, and either Catholic or public or private colleges. 

I think most parents try to make the best decision for their child, given their resources.  I think the decision about where to send a particular to child to school is always highly specific, looking at the child, the schools, the options, and the needs of other kids.

If I'm not mistaken, the majority of Catholic students in the U.S. actually attend public schools at this point in time.  But they are still Catholic, and they deserve attention from the Church.

So here's my question:  what are we doing for the majority of Catholic children?  Catholic schools were founded to meet a need--legal historians have highlighted the militantly Protestant, anti-Catholic animus in public schools that created a barrier for little Catholic immigrant children. 

Is that particular need still there?  Some people would say that rampant secularism creates a parallel need. Maybe in some places. Public schools aren't all the same.  

But there are other needs too, needs that have emerged in our modern era.  I always wondered:  rather than starting a parochial school, would not it be a good option for at least some parishes to put together reliable afterschool care  that could be there for students from 3:00 p.m. to (say) 6:30 p.m.? Why not run full-day summer programs?  Many teachers pick up part-time jobs in the summer; Hiring them in the summer would be cheaper, since their benefits are already covered all-year by their full-time jobs.  

I think after school and summer are big challenges for many parents.  Wouldn't they appreciate a strong, religiously based context for their kids after school? And wouldn't, from a Catholic perspective, the sustained informal interaction with students be 1) cheaper for the parish/diocese; and 2) at least as effective at transmitting Catholic culture; and 3) likely to be used by busy parents trying to work and take care of their children?

I don't know.  I'm no expert in this.  But I do wonder from time to time, why don't struggling Catholic schools go for the after school and summer markets?

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

My children go to Catholic schools. I have  never seen "the celebration and promotion (of Catholic schools) take the form of generalized contempt and pity for students who attend public school".  I do occasionally hear my non-Catholic friends express suspicion of Catholic schools as being intolerant of non-Catholics.  I ask my friends, whether,knowing me as they do, if they really think I would send my children to a school like that?  In my experience, its just a negative stereoptype you hear once in a while.

Fr. Piderit in the East Bronx was looking a few years back at Catholic afterschool programs for children in public schools. I don't know where that effort went, but  the organization is called The Catholic Education Institute.


Great suggestions. Especially if the after school and summer programs had a religious education element to them. 

At our parish here in northeast Florida, there is somewhat of a split between the parochial and public school families. The latest kerfuffle involved parents of the parish school kids complaining that their children had to receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation with the CCD kids. They wanted a separate celebration all their own. Wisely, our pastor said no. 

Our diocese is the originator of "Faith" magazine, a generally dreadful publication that has national distribution and has been criticized by readers in the local parish (which has no Catholic school) for focusing solely on the students of parochial schools, never on any Catholic kids who attend public schools, not even in CCD. 

Mostly the magazine offers a lot pat stories about faith and an EZ-answer approach to difficult questions. This answer to a parent struggling with the decision to send his kid to Catholic school is typical:

Except for urging the CCD programs on the parent (but ignoring a chance to encourage parents to get involved in beefing up those programs at the parish level!), the priest blows off the family's economic concerns, and never says a word aimed at helping parents keep their children in the faith despite economic exegencies. He never once encourages the parents to use Michigan's school-of-choice option to find a charter or public school that will support their children in communitarian values, however secular or ecumenical. One is left with the notion that, unless you're sending your kid to Catholic school or home schooling them, you're selfish and materialistic.

The priest missed an opportunity to urge parishes without parochial schools to offer scholarships/tuition relief for those who want to attend nearby parishes, to encourage parishes to work together to fund a regional parochial school, to give parents whose children must attend public schools encouragement and advice about helping their children live the faith in a secular setting. He might have suggested that the parents at least "shop" public schools (as they can in Michigan) to find one that offers their child the best possible education and the safest setting, one that encourages, if not religious ideals, at least a communitarian spirit. 


Apologies for the redundancies in my rant above. I was called away to the phone and pressed send without editing.

Jean - actually, your comment hits the nail on the head and highlights a number of ongoing questions/issues.

- as Mark stated well, continue to experience the reality that CCD is the *unwanted stepchild* for too many parishes, pastors. 

- some come across as if *orthodox& catholics are those that send kids to catholic schools and others are, therefore, less than catholic

- you highlight some excellent points (did you know that a catholic school has closed on average every four days for the last 20 years).  So, what happens in the near future?

- do most know that the fathers of VII laid a foundation that *adult* education was the focus for parishes (not kid education)?

- doubt that this priest has any knowledge or awareness of your state programs that help lower income folks decide for catholic education

- look at catholic colleges/universities - have we reached a point where moddle income or less can not afford to send kids to these institutes?

- regional schools - probably less than 25% of US dioceses have regional school approach (think Chicago archdiocese).  This approach pools resources; often includes before/after school programs; doesn't hinge on one parish totally supporting a school/staff; allows a diocese a chance to provide schools in which all parishes in that location can access (whether the parish is low income or high income), etc.

- CCD sacramental prep vs. elementary school sacramental prep - agree, Mark, that separating these two only exacerbates issues (but too many pastors are unwilling to explain, educate, or work with the school parents (who probably have more income, etc.).  Follow the donations and money - most of the answer to your questions.

- have seen some good decisions in north Texas in which the parish members are in excellent school districts (public) and did not support the need to build a catholic school - rather, they put their resources into good CCD and Teen programs and made that a priority. 

Cathleen's suggestions certainly have merit. Here's a suggestion I'd like to offer.

Parisheswould do well to foster a group of parishoners who take as their task offering constructive support to the public schools atended by students from the parish. Therre are any number of things that could be done. One is publicly to support decent funding for these schools. Anotheer is actively to encourage these students to take part in parish programs like team sports. A third would be to develop an advisory group of parents of these students to give a steady stream of advice to the people who run the CCD programs. The overall objective of this group is to show that the education of these students, both academically and religiusly, is just as much a conceern of the parish than is the concern for the parochial students.

I kno that this will be hard work, but that's no good reason for avoiding it.

- regional schools - probably less than 25% of US dioceses have regional school approach (think Chicago archdiocese).  This approach pools resources; often includes before/after school programs; doesn't hinge on one parish totally supporting a school/staff; allows a diocese a chance to provide schools in which all parishes in that location can access (whether the parish is low income or high income), etc.

Hi, Bill, I can't tell from your comment whether you're pointing to the Chicago archdiocese as an example of a diocese that does or does not have a regional schools approach.   For K-8, we do have some regional schools alongside what is mostly still a parish-based school model.  I believe the regional schools mostly came about as a way to condolidate two or three parish schools in adjacent parishes that probably couldn't stay afloat on their own.  We do continue to shut down parish schools as economic reality continues to be real - six more schools were slated to close in the last month or so.  I am not sure how parents feel about the regional schools as opposed to a parish-based school, but I would guess that there is somewhat less of a bond of ownership.  

FWIW, I'm usually pretty pessimistic in my comments about the future of Catholic schools.  I think it's going to become a privilege of the children of the "have's" in the church.  The church needs to find a new model.  I'm glad that Cathleen is posting some suggestions.


agree, JP

I remember this debate being carried on back in the 1950's, and not much seems to have changed since then.  It's always been the case that only a minority of Catholic children attend a Catholic school. I'd love to see the statistics. I'd bet that it's fewer than 20%, perhaps a lot fewer.  

A parallel story, of course, is how few Catholics attend a Catholic college or university. Probably a still smaller percentage.  A problem that also goes unaddressed.  As I've noted here before, the great majority of U.S. Catholics have never had a college-level course on their faith.

It's not only financial concerns that keep some children out of Catholic schools. Again, an example from my own experience. We have a daughter with Asperger syndrome who, though very intelligent, struggled in the public school because of her different ways of learning and her social deficits. A couple of years ago, we approached our parish school about enrolling her there. We were able to pay the in-parish tuition and fees, and we felt that a smaller school and a more welcoming, community- and Christ-centered environment would be helpful.

We met with the curriculum director to talk about our daughter's abilities and needs, and she said she would speak with the principal to set up an appointment for him to meet us. A week later, the school secretary called and informed us that the principal would not meet with us. We were told that our daughter's academic record did not meet their standards for admission and so he would not offer her a place. I don't know which hurt more--that the school's academic reputation seemed to trump all other considerations or that the principal wouldn't even take the time to get to know us or our girl. Either way, it left us with a bad taste in our mouths, which comes up every year during Catholic Schools Week.

Mark, it may be a blessing your daughter did not go to Catholic school, as the community was clearly NOT welcoming. Moreover, it may not have been equipped to deal with your daughter. My kid has a learning disability, and his Catholic school was ill equipped to deal with it. Teachers were quite candid with parents that their pay was inadequate and they weren't miracle workers and my kid was an only child and was probably spoiled. I also didn't feel that there was much consistency in discipline and structure, something our kid needed, because the school relied heavily on parent volunteers. These were overworked and yelled a lot. Our experience with the public schools was more supportive, and we were given a lot of great info about how to help structure things at home to help my son. 

I do think that many of the kids at the school did well because the volunteers were neighbors and relatives, and many of them attended the same parish as their teachers (we were in an adjacent parish without a school, so we often felt like outsiders). For those kids, there was a connection between church and home that probably served them well.

I will say that my son's school did religious education very well. The focal point was Friday morning Mass, at which attendance was compulsory. The students did the readings and prayers, and the meaning of Mass and the sacraments was explained well, so what they learned in religion was readily apparent (and participated in) in "their" mass on Fridays. I've often wondered why there is no Mass before or after CCD (which occurs on Wednesday nights for the kids in our parish) which would give the CCD kids a similar stake in the liturgy and sacraments.

Anyone's parish folding Mass into CCD? It seems like a no-brainer, but I've talked to parents in other parishes that don't have Mass with CCD.



We have 2 daughters neither of whom attended Catholic schools although there were several  in our City, though our parish didn't have one.  Part fo it I admit was my own Catholic elementary school experience which frankly wasn't very good.  Part of it was cost.  Part of it was that the local elementary school was pretty solid and our neighborhood kids, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, all attended. 

When it came time for high school, the Catholic Girls High school in town just didn't seem to hold much attraction for our kids.  The older one was a competent musician (good enough to play in a local college ensemble as a high school junior and senior) and the Catholic high school had only a rudimentary music program.  The public school had a regionally acclaimed program.  The Catholic School wanted to put our daughter in a "college track" as opposed to a more advanced one while the public school allowed parents to choose, at least within some limits. The younger daughter really just wanted to follow her sister, so we let her. And frankly, the cost, almost $10,000 several years ago, just was too much for a working family.    The result is not something any of us look back on with disappointment.  Both had great academic experiences, one ended up an all-state athlete though she likely wouldn't have made the team as a frosh at the large Catholic Regional high School. the other, as I said was a musician, who became a good enough golfer to compete at the collegiate level as well due to a wonderful man who coached the girls golf team and recruited players from the student body to have a tgeam every year.  When it came to college, both considered  Catholic schools and were accepted to well respected ones.  Ultimately, though the decision to attend small private schools came down to feel and money. None of the Catholic schools provided finacial aid packages that could compare with those offered by top private institutions.

My brother sends his kids to a Catholic school in a wealthy neighborhood. I picked them up from school a few times. The other parents all wear expensive, fashionable clothes. The mothers wear a pearl necklace on top of a small silk scarf, their hair is blond and attached in a pony tail or a bun. Needless to say, everyone is white and no one is overweight. 

However, I have supervised my brother's kids' homework a few times, and I have to say that they know more than the kids I know in public school, both in religious education and in general knowledge.


I think that afterschool and summer programs are great ideas.

In the US, when a niece visits me, I will send her to an all-day Jewish camp during vacation, in the hope that she learns a little bit about Judaism and maybe a few words of Hebrew. For a Christiam, it seems to me that it can only be a good thing.

The only negative is that she will have to bring a kosher lunch bag, so I have to figure out how to pack her a kosher lunch!

My daughters' Catholic parochial school has been a complete blessing.  

It is very affordable, welcoming and offers a 1st rate education.  Because the public schools are very good in our neighborhood, it is difficult for children who don't live in the neighborhood to get into them, so we have quite a few children from other communities coming to our school.  My older daughter is now looking at Catholic high schools; she has been offered a full scholarship to one of the local girls' high school and some very generous offers from other schools in Manhattan.

Most important to me about my girls' Catholic education is that it reinforces our Catholic values, not just an hour or so a week at Sunday school, but all day every day.  I think this helps create a great foundation in preparation for the day they enter a world where its a little tough to be a Christian woman.

I'm very grateful for the generosity these schools have shown my family and for the education they're giving my daughters. 


Re: "I do get a little worried, however, when the celebration and promotion takes the form of generalized contempt and pity for students who attend public school."

 I have recent experience teaching in a Catholic school and I have not noticed such contempt and pity. That kind of thinking, it seems to me, was prevalent thirty/forty some years ago in the heyday of the Cahtolic school system.

Of course, a lot depends on the quality of the public school with respect to the local Catholic school. In some areas, parents make many sacrifices to send their children to a Catholic school.


Now that I'm a Mom, I'm also  thinking the all-girl aspect of Catholic high schools is pretty appealing. My  daughter doesn't share my enthusiasm, but I think an all-girl setting really does encourage female leadership and helps some girls' find their voices. 

Claire, are your brother's children smarter because they attend Catholic school or because the school is in a wealthy neighborhood and likely well funded? 

Clearly, the Catholic school "experience" is all over the map.


“ … why don't struggling Catholic schools go for the after school and summer markets?”

Maybe adopting, in certain cases, an alternative such as Mormon Institutes of Religion would be helpful:

Is that particular need still there?  Some people would say that rampant secularism creates a parallel need. Maybe in some places. Public schools aren't all the same.  

Right.  There is no militant anti-Catholicism in the public schools around here, or even rampant secularism.

I recall, in one of Andrew Greeley's books about the Catholic church based on his sociological research, his conclusion that, for Catholic parishes with schools, the schools are the communal "glue" for the parish.   I can see that is the case at the Catholic schools around here, one of which my children attended - there are a number of families that have attended that school for several generations, and it's clear that many of the parents know one another, not only because the kids go to school there and parents get involved, but also because many of them are involved in the parish in various ways.  (Like Jean, my family belongs to an adjacent parish without a school, and I did feel a bit like an outsider at school functions, at least at first.)

I don't think it's coincidental that the church's ability to 'retain' teens and young adults has declined in lockstep with the decline in Catholic school enrollment.  The formation that Catholic schoolchildren received in Catholic schools surely was a key element in the church's historical success in influencing the larger culture in the US.  They're worth supporting, and worth fighting for.

Also, as Helen noted, Catholic schools are positively a lifeline in some communities, many of them large urban areas with unsatisfactory public schools.  That is why it is particularly aggravating that the neighborhoods in which Catholic schools are most likely to be shut down - poor neighborhoods - are the areas that may need a Catholic school the most.  My view is that Catholic schools mirror to some extent some of the dysfunction of public schools, in that the relatively wealthy neighborhoods - which typically have pretty good public schools - have viable Catholic schools, whereas the poor neighborhoods with poor parishes end up with neither a good public school nor any Catholic school at all.  This would seem to be a signal weakness of the parish school model.  Just my opinion.


For years my parish refused to contribute any money to the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal because of the California Bishops' leadership in Proposition 8 over the years, and the particular role of the current Archbishop in all of this.  We finally had a "come to Jesus" meeting with the Archdiocese when our arrears reached a rather astronomical number.  We negotiated a forgiveness of the past debt AND an agreement that our annual assessment would be paid directly by us to 4 nearby and quite needy parish schools.  Each year we give them a check for scholarships for their students.

Parishes without schools could provide scholarships to schools nearby, particularly those in lower-income parishes where the extra money would help a lot.  It is appalling to me that Catholic schools have come to the point that only the well-to-do can afford to send their children to them.  I know all about the increased cost dynamics with lay teachers, etc., but I also know that where there is a will there is a way.

My parish's way and will results in about $70,000 per year being distributed to 4 schools based on their needs.  AND the Archdiocese is regularly reminded that we will NOT just roll over and play dead.

Parents will probably be interested in this NYT article.  It's about the recently published Bengston study of *why* people retain the faith of their parents.  (He studied the subjects for 40 years!)  Having a Catholic school education is not the most important reason.  The most influential factor is .  .  .  Dad!   read the article for the answer that surprised even Prof. "Bengston.

Interesting article in America magazine today:

Key points that underline earlier comments:

"One of the roundtable’s first actions was to welcome the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. Another session dealt with issues of sustainability and competitiveness following the release of the Blue Ribbon Commission Report “Faith in the Future: Sustainable Catholic Education for All Who Desire It,” which proposed the closure of 48 schools in the Ardhdiocese of Philadelphia. Another meeting featured working groups on the future of teaching in Catholic schools and on early childhood education."

".....roundtables should concern Catholic education and not just Catholic schools. Catholic religious education programs need representation, too. In Philadelphia fewer than one-third of primary-school-age Catholics are in Catholic schools; 36 percent are in religious education programs; and the rest are in neither. Quality religious education programs are needed for those who are enrolled and for those who could be."


Thanks for posting the link, Ann. I had read the story but didn't post it. On second reading, it does seem to be very relevant to this discussion. (Sidney Callahan's recent story in Commonweal about  the fact that none of her six kids are still Catholic may be of interest also - her husband, a former contributor to Commonweal, left the church in the last 60s).

There seem to be two main concerns about the continued decline of full-time Catholic education in the US - availability of "quality" education and the role Catholic schools might play in keeping kids Catholic.   Quality of education is only of concern in selected areas. Catholic schools can be lifesaving in inner cities as Jim P noted  – but most of the students who enroll in Catholic parochial schools in the inner city are not Catholic and it does not seem that many become Catholic either. Their parents send them there because of the safe environment and the opportunity to receive a solid educational foundation in inner city areas where both are rare.  Unfortunately, most of the schools that are closing are inner city schools, which should be kept open.  In the suburbs the public schools are often at least as good, and often better, than Catholic schools academically, equal to the very pricey Catholic independent schools run by religious orders.  Sending children to Catholic schools in areas where there are good public schools seems to be motivated primarily by a desire to instill Catholic values and “identity”.

Greeley's study indicated that the parochial elementary school (but not high school) experience was important in forming lifelong Catholics. But I wonder if that is as true today as when he did the study. It was completed  some time ago and he really focused on the parish community - the school was just one part of it. It was done at a time when parishes were often still in a little Catholic ghetto where everyone lived near one another and went to mass together and school together. Many who grew up in east coast an mid-western cities had this experience. The growing up Catholic experience was quite different in my suburban west coast city – most of my neighborhood was not Catholic. I went to a Catholic college and then to grad school at a major Jesuit university. My college friends were raised in typical large Catholic families of the era and all went to Catholic schools from K-college (except for me – public from 5-12) - but the parochial schools were not  centers of almost entirely Catholic ethnic communities.   Of that group of friends, educated almost exclusively in Catholic schools all the way through college, instilled with Catholic identity through family rosaries, statues of Mary, eating fish or mac and cheese on Friday, First Fridays, weekly or monthly class visits to the confessional, May crownings, etc, etc, fewer than half are still practicing Catholics who raised their own kids as Catholic.  We "came of age" a few years after Vatican II. Many left the church as soon as we finished (Catholic) college.  I have found this to be almost universally true throughout my adult life – at least half (and maybe a majority) of the Catholics I have met throughout my entire life since college who were raised in parochial schools and Catholic colleges and universities did not stay in the church.  Fr. K might be happy to know that all students at my college were required to take philosophy and theology every semester,  but maybe not so happy to learn that university level Catholic education was not enough to convince most of them to remain in the church after leaving school. If I had to put my finger on the reasons most of my friends and former classmates left, the most important would be the publication of Humanae Vitae. Some of those who hung in there after its publication (following their own well-informed consciences on the matter of birth control) eventually became discouraged by the tilt to a very narrow understanding of "orthodoxy" over the years.  There was also a growing discomfort  (as well-educated, professional women) with staying in a church, and raising children in it,  that relegates women to second-class status as a matter of "doctrine".  

So what does keep adults in the religion of their parents in an age of religious freedom in a highly secular society?  The story Ann posted provides some interesting insights. The official church, from the pope on down, keeps harping on the maternal role of women and its importance above all else -  and especially about its importance in "transmitting the faith”.  There is never a word about the role of fathers. Perhaps someone should send the PTB the link Ann posted.

What is the influence now of Catholic schools?  Most religions in the US do not have the network of schools from pre-K through university that Catholics have established.  Pew Research found the following religious retention rates in the US:  Hindus have the highest retention rate – at least as far as self-identification goes - in adulthood ((84%), followed by Jews (76%), Muslims (76%), Greek Orthodox (73%), and Mormons (70%).  Catholics are at 68%, followed by Baptists, Lutherans, etc until you get to the lowest retention rate – found in those who were raised as atheists - only 30% of those raised athiest remain atheist in adulthood - even though it's probably safe to assume that most attended "godless" public schools.

I am not aware of many full-time Hindu, Muslim, or Greek Orthodox schools. I live in a majority Jewish population community, and there is one full-time Jewish day school (pre-K-12), but the vast majority of the Jewish families send their kids to public school. Starting in 3rd grade, most Jewish kids also go to  “Hebrew school” after the school day and/or on Sunday mornings. Most attend Hebrew school 3 times/week until their bat/bar mitzvahs.  The Greeks in our area have “Greek school” which is both religious and cultural (they teach language, dancing, etc in addition to religion)– on Sundays only. The older kids have the equivalent of CYO sports etc. Those who can afford it send their kids to camps in Greece during the summer when they get older. How much is religious and how much is ethnic and cultural? The Mormons don't have any schools around here, but they are truly amazing in how they reach out to Mormons in the widespread community and incorporate them into their "parish" communities.  So, is it the formal religious education that really counts or is it cultural factors of ethnicity and community that support lifelong adherence to the religious background of one’s parents? Greeley’s study implies that it more than simply formal Catholic education but may really be the influence of the parish as the center of the neighborhood community.

What is the true influence of parochial Catholic education in “keeping kids Catholic”? How much of it was/is due to formal Catholic education and how much is due to immersive community cultural and ethnic influences?  Greeley studied mostly ethnic parishes – Irish, Italian, German, Polish etc, but few Catholic parishes these days are at the center of heavily ethnic neighborhoods, with the exception of the Latino neighborhoods.  Recent studies show that the most vibrant parishes these days may be the Latino parishes, but the studies also show that second and third generation Latinos are leaving the Catholic church in the same way that second, third, and fourth generation euro/anglo Catholics are leaving.  

What is the real goal - and where should the resources go?

What is "First Fridays"?

Ms. Chapman:  You wrote:  "Fr. K might be happy to know that all students at my college were required to take philosophy and theology every semester,  but maybe not so happy to learn that university level Catholic education was not enough to convince most of them to remain in the church after leaving school."

I am indeed happy to hear about your education at a Catholic college, and indeed not so happy about the departures of most of your fellow students. I'd like to know how long ago it was that you attended that college and what its requirements in those areas are today. The Catholic women's college where I taught for three years in the mid- to late-Sixties required eighteen credits in philosophy and eighteen more in theology. Today I don't believe that a single course in Catholic theology is required there. Some years ago, a survey found that very few Catholic colleges required more than two courses in religion, and in many of them the requirement could be met by taking courses, say, in "Meso-American Creation Myths" and "The Post-structuralist and Post-modern Critique of Religion." 

The vast majority of U.S. Catholics have had no course on their faith since their Confirmation.

When I was growing up 'making" the nine "First Fridays" was SOP among Catholics where I lived, especially parochial school students.  We looked at it as a guarantee that we would make it to heaven!  But even when my family moved to a small, rural community where all Catholic kids attended the public school, most of us ""made" the First Fridays in high school.

"....our Lord made a great pledge: "I promise you in the unfath­omable mercy of my heart that my omnipotent love will procure the grace of final penitence for all those who receive communion on nine successive first Fridays of the month; they will not die in my disfavor, or without having received the sacraments, since my divine heart will be their sure refuge in the last moments of their life."4

The great promise of the Sacred Heart is most consoling: the grace of final perseverance and the joy of having Jesus' heart as our sure refuge and infinite ocean of mercy in our last hour.

 To gain this grace, we must:

  • Receive holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays.
  • Have the intention of honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of reaching final perseverance.
  • Offer each holy Communion as an act of atonement for offenses against the Blessed Sacrament.

Fr. K, I attended a Catholic women's college in the late 60s. I was in the last graduating class that was all women. My college merged with the local men's college (Jesuit) the September after my graduation.  I don't know what the requirements are for current students.  I'll see if I can find out.  I went to a different Jesuit university for graduate school. Unsurprisingly,  there were no required theology or philosophy courses for grad students.  I don't know what the undergrad requirements were - this was in the 70s.

In all of the Catholic education I had (primary, 3 of 4 high school and university) I had, it was all about knowledge.

I don't ever remember getting any version of what many Protestants were told, i.e., accepting Jesus as one's Lord and Savior.  Maybe that has all changed these days; does anyone know?

I know that Catholics get quite nervous with that kind of talk, but I wonder if a bit more emphasis on the need for conversion somewhere in your religious life as opposed to doing things the "right way" might make a difference.   The almost 20 years I found attending non-denominational churches certainly gave me a very different perspective on my relationship with God. 

And then there is the obsessiveness about matters sexual.

Former Catholics who leave for more evangelical churches seem to take to the new way of religious life like ducks to water.

"found" s/b "spent"

I serve on a diocesan school board with two elementary and one high school to govern. Not advise, govern. I previously served for 9 years on a public elementary school board. The problem folks is not lack of faith, lack of energy, lack of spirit or lack of leadership. It is simply lack of money. In urban areas, like LA and the SF Bay Area, there are many upper income families who can afford private schools and Catholic schools fill that niche. With most schools having a waiting list, there is little recruitment difficulty. But moving away from these incredibly affluent areas who often have sketchy public school systems that are either minute and isolated or huge and impersonal, your typical parish Catholic elementary school is running on fumes. We had to close ours down when enrollment fell during this recession/depression from 120 to 40 students. We could not provide any kind of quality program and make payroll. 2/3rds of our families were on financial aid.

If the Church wishes to continue its educational mission it must solve the financing issue. Either we imitate the European model and allow religious private schools to receive state and fedseral vouchers or other per pupil support, or your local bishop will need to spend his lifetime fundraising. It is nothing like when we were kids and the good sisters essentially volunteered without any pay besides room and board. Back then tuition for a full year was $250. Even when my kids started high school 30+ years ago, tuition was only $750 a year. Now tuition is over $4,000 per year for starving elementary families, and $12,000 per year for highly motivated college prep families. Parishes and dioceses cannot pay just wages for their principals and teachers and continue to enroll students with up to 50% financial aid. It is not sustainable. Worse, the ensuing inculturation of the faith will suffer greatly as our once great Catholic church going parishioners become just the old and very grey.

It is great that your parish contributes $70,000 per year to four schools operated by neighboring parishes. However, if you do the math, you will see that adds up to "not enough". For our parish operating just a small school, we invested over $125,000 per year in operating expenses plus over $50,000 each year for maintenance of our 55 year old buildings. But you are on the right track.

Mike Evans paints a stark picture. So far as I know, it isan accurate portrait of the plight of many Catholic schools. One part of his picture that we may tend to overlook is the part about the "sketchy public school systems." Both as Catholics  and as citizens, we have a responsibility to address this awful school problem. Most of the comments here have talked about Catholic schools and what needs to be done to preserve them and their good work. We cannot rightly ignore, though, the condition of our public schools. Ignoring their condition would make us, to borrow the pope's phrase, "self-referential. Any ideas aboput how our parishes can give concrete support to the public schools in their neighborhoods?

Mike:  we fully realize that $17,500 each for 4 schools is not nearly enough to keep the doors of any of these schools open.  It does, however, help some students go there who most likely would not be able to do so otherwise.  Would it be better if we gave the full $70,000 to just one of these schools?  Maybe so, but which one?  They all need help.

Our parish has virtually no children of school age.  When they do get there, their parents tend to leave and join a parish with a schoold (first preference for parishioners seems to be the rule of thumb at these schools).  We are doing what we can to help out as we can.  We also host fund-raising activities at our parish for those schools who ask us to do so, as 2 of the 4 do on a regular basis.  It all seems to help.

I think that more parishes (there are plenty of affluent ones in the Archdiocese of SF) should do what we do rather than invest more money on bigger and better tschotskes that pass as devotional objects.  However, as parisheners age and the number of families with children diminish (I'm not sure where they are going, if at all) the focus is on the tschotskes, not on educating children that can't be easily seen.

btw, I forgot to mention that my parish is 400 people .... not families, people.  That's $175 per person going to these schools ... every year.  The AAA assessment will increase by about 2% this year.

Not too bad from a bunch of people, the majority of whom are "objectively disordered."

But this is my question: why does its  educational mission need to look exactly the way it did a century ago?

In job interviews it considered highly immature, juvenile in fact, to make a supposedly positive point about yourself by disparaging something else, someone, or some schoolother than the one you attended. 

Of the people I know who were educated in Catholic schools when parishes were little ghettoes have left the church in their 50's,60, 70's or have beme right wing Catholics who revere Ayn Rand above Jesus Christ.


Why did the people leav? They did not liketheir fellow Catholics and what considered their nasty attidtudes. Or they did not aprepciate snarky commets from priests about gay marriage. Or sermons about how owmen need to be humble (men were not mentioned).  But most of all they remembered spiritially deep sermons from childhood instead of political sermons. They missed those sermons. Does anyone remeber the kindness and charity of Fr. Peyto, who was enormously popular at one time? To many he was real rpiest, and many of the priests today are political hacks.

Fr. K -  I checked current requirements. My undergraduate college/university (LMU) currently has a core curriculum that requires courses in theology and philosophy: from the "areas" called Theological Inquiry and Philosophical Inquiry during the first two years, and from "areas" called Faith and Reason and Ethics and Justice during the last two years.  But, apparently it's only one course from each area, so there are two required in theology and two required in philosophy. From the website:  The Core invites students to analyze their relationship with themselves, others, the world, and God. The Core serves faith by bringing students to a critical and appreciative understanding of religious traditions, and to see the search for God as intrinsic to the human condition.  

Georgetown's core also requires two theology courses and two philosophy courses: Political & Social Thought (Philosophy dept) plus one intermediate course, and  The Problem of God OR Intro to Biblical Literature plus an intermediate theology course.

So, this works out to only a year of theology (two courses) and a year of philosophy (two courses) at these two Jesuit universities -  far fewer courses than when I was a student.  According to the website, it seems that Marquette requires two theology courses and no philosophy courses as part of the core.

I can't help but wonder though - does it make a difference in the long run as far as staying Catholic goes?  Are there any studies that look at the impact of college level theology courses on non-theology students in their lifelong faith journey?

Cathleen K asks: But this is my question: why does its  educational mission need to look exactly the way it did a century ago?

It probably doesn't - the main reasons for the founding and development of the Catholic system no longer exist. The system was successful and has achieved the goals set a century and more ago.  So, the first step now should be to define the mission during the 21st century and then decide if a network of parochial schools, especially at the primary and secondary levels, is the best way to achieve it.

I think Cathy has made some good points.  

I went to public school for eight years, Catholic high school and college, Ivy League grad school.  I was fortunate that all were excellent schools.  However, one major benefit of public school was being with and making friends with people of all and no faiths. I learned about Unitarians, Baptists,  Armenian Apostolics, Jews, Episcopalians and their beliefs, practices and customs..  One classmate was the daughter of a rabbi.  I ate matzo and learned Hannukah songs which I can still sing to this day. I was familiar with some Psalms even though Catholics didn't read the Bibble in pre-Vatican2 days.  My parish provided religioud instruction after school and Sundays, and I was right up with all the Catholic school kids when I transitioned to a Catholic high school where some of my classmates didn't know any non-Catholics.  

I went on to teach mathematics in a public high school, so I am also well aware of that environment.  (Full disclosure:  one of my students was Cathy Kaveny.)   Based on my experience, I think the time has come for parishes to give up trying to run elementary schools.  They could better put their resources into effective education programs for all parishioners, preK - adult.

Anne --


Prof. Bengtson's conclusion that fathers are the most important positive religious influence on kids is surprising, but it maybe it shouldn't be -- it has long been realized that if a child has a mean or coldly indifferent father that the child's concept of God ("Father") will have little appeal to the child and might even turn the child away from God.  Bengtson's research seems to confirm this. 


But there have always been mean and cold fathers, so what has happened to speed the loss of family religion?  Why is it that in recent decades over 30% of church-going children have given up their family religion?  


My new theory is that the very concept of "father" must have changed radically in the last 40-50 years.  Did it?  I strongly suspect it has.  Why?  The most obvious answer to me is that the relentless and severe  complaints from the radical feminists about the unfairness and selfishness of men generally must have had an adverse affect on many kids' perceptions of  their own fathers. Also, with the proliferation of divorce, many kids probably don't know their fathers as well as kids used to.  All in all, it  must be harder for fathers to be understood as loving and fair than it used to be, and the result is that the churches' image of God -- which is so dependent on the culture's image of fathers -- is also less appealing than it used to be.


Can the schools do anything to change this diminished image?  I don't know.  No doubt the media would have to do some revising of how fathers are perceived.  Schools can't do everything, though lots of people would like them to.

Are people certain that the main reason for Catholic schools no longer exist? People seem to assume it was a response to anti-Catholic bigotry in the public schools, which I'm' sure was certainly a problem, but I always thought Catholic education was a charitable response to meet a basic human need that was otherwise unmet.

Didn't religious sisters set up schools to educate girls, when girls weren't being educated?  And weren't many Catholic schools charity schools to educate the poor who weren't otherwise being educated?

Do you think our poor here in the US are now all receiving a quality public education?   I think our Catholic schools in those poor communities where the public schools are of poor quality are still very much meeting a charitable need and doing it on shoestring budgets.

Anne - you state:  "It probably doesn't - the main reasons for the founding and development of the Catholic system no longer exist."

Well, yes and no and it depends upon your ethnic group, culture, and geographic location.  For example:

- you live in a large urban area in the state of Texas.  If economically disadvantaged and in an ethnic neighborhood, very good chance that the local public school is well below national norms; can have problems with violence, gangs, drugs, etc.  Texas does not have available adequate funds, grants, etc. so that parents can choose alternative educational placements.

- Given this, the catholic dioceses (just like in the 19th century) can offer a quality educational experience in a setting that is safe and involves the parents.  In fact, studies indicate that many inner city caltholic schools have large percentages of non-catholic students (why - because of the sorry state of public education).  Thus, you have dioceses that *stretch* to do regional concepts and thus support/encourage catholic educational settings in the midst of economic issues, continuing neighborhood ethnic problems, etc.  This is a *catholic mission*.  You see this today in Teach for America or the Jesuit Christo Rey high schools.

Most educational studies show the impact of poverty, two working parents, etc. on early childhood and elementary kids (whether public or private, catholic).  So, this is a mission and outreach to the poor and disadvantaged.  Studies indicate that *education* is a significant way to impact and change the future of those schools, neighborhoods, etc.

Irene --

Here in New Orleans Catholics didn't have to battle prejudice to be socially acceptable because Catholics founded this city -- Catholics were the ones who did the accepting or not.  But there were Catholic schools. 

Bill, your post highlights why the mission of Catholic schools should be clarified - is the main reason for them the formation of lifelong Catholics, or is it to provide a better than public school academic education,  or is it to serve the poor. Or is it all of the above, at the same time and/or separately for different populations?

I don't have an answer, I have only questions.

Please note what I said in my post on Feb. 4 at 1:08 - Quality of education is only of concern in selected areas. Catholic schools can be lifesaving in inner cities as Jim P noted  – but most of the students who enroll in Catholic parochial schools in the inner city are not Catholic and it does not seem that many become Catholic either. Their parents send them there because of the safe environment and the opportunity to receive a solid educational foundation in inner city areas where both are rare.  Unfortunately, most of the schools that are closing are inner city schools, which should be kept open.  

(I probably should have said that quality is most important or of primary concern in inner cities...rather than "only")

Keeping Catholic parochial schools open in the inner cities, even if the ultimate outcome is not creating lifelong Catholics, would seem to be a worthy mission for Catholic schools today.  With the exception of cities with largely Hispanic Catholic populations, most of the students of these schools are not Catholic - but does that mean these schools should be closed?  Inner city Catholic schools are being closed by the dozens in cities all over the country. And if it is an important mission to keep these schools open, where will the money come from?  Should the wealthier parishes have a special tithe that goes specifically to keep those schools open?  Or should tuitions at the wealthier schools be raised in order to subsidize the poor schools and help more kids get a decent education and a better chance at a decent life?

In areas where the public schools are excellent academically, and where the populace is not poor, what then is the mission of Catholic/parochial schools?

If it is decided that the main mission should be to form lifelong Catholics, have any studies been done to determine how effective it is?  

Irene, it is certainly true that some schools were founded to educate girls and young women, especially in eras where it was generally thought that girls and women did not "need" a strong educational background. Most of the Catholic womens' colleges were founded because young women faced a lot of barriers to admission in the secular colleges and universities of the times. But, this is no longer the case.  Women graduate with bachelors AND advanced degrees at higher rates then men these days, with the exception of a few fields (computer science, math, physics and engineering still have more male graduates than female).  I personally think there is value in single sex education - for girls, but especially for inner city boys. Studies have shown that inner city boys (who usually do not have a stable father or father "presence" in the home) seem to do better in single sex classrooms than in co-ed in the public school systems that have permitted it. 

Full disclosure:  I went to a Catholic womens' college but a public high school and elementary school (from 5th on). I went to a parochial school from gr 1-4.  My college merged with a men's college the year after I graduated and women now outnumber men at this university, even though men far outnumbered women when the merger took place. There were a lot of great things about the all womens' college experience, but there were opportunities we missed out on also because of being single sex and being very small. We have no daughters, but may have sent them to an all girls high school if we did.  Our sons went to a mixture of schools as we are fortunate enough to live in an area of excellent public, private, and parochial schools. Some were co-ed and some were single sex schools. They attended all three at different times. The private schools included Catholic and Episcopalian schools. All went to private universities, but none were Catholic. We were blessed with an abundance of good choices and fortunately the financial means to afford them with only a bit of sacrifice.  We may have given up new cars every few years, and a few other luxuries (a fancy dinner out was usually somewhere like Olive Garden) but we believed it to be worth it, and still believe so now that they are all adults.

But not everyone enjoys these choices, and the question for me is this - should the larger Catholic community be doing more to help those who don't have any of these choices - not good public schools nor enough money to pay for a private or parochial school? I

As a long time fan of this blog who has kids about to enter school, I feel compelled to jump in. For some background on my perspective, I’m a Gen Xer who has subscribed to Commonweal since entering the Catholic church after graduating college. I attended public schools in my youth, did my undergraduate degree at a big state university, and grad school at a non-Catholic private university. My wife is a product of Catholic education, from Kindergarten through her Master’s, before getting a doctorate at a non-Catholic university. We identify as "Commonweal Catholics". We attend Mass weekly, participate in parish retreats, and are trying our best to raise our kids in the faith. However, most of our friends are non-Catholic, indeed few practice any religion at all, reflective of the demographic trends that are often discussed within Commonweal.


I think that it's good that parishes and dioceses are trying to promote parochial schools, and I haven’t been exposed to the pity/condemnation of CCD kids. I don’t doubt that for my Catholics of my parents’ generation, there was a big divide between those families that sent kids to Catholic schools and those who didn’t. No doubt, there are still parishes or communities where this remains true. My own experience has been very different. Perhaps because my own parish has a lot of very active families whose kids attend public schools in a nearby suburb. Whether it’s been a real estate agent, a colleague, acquaintance, or friend, the assumption I’ve encountered has always been that “good” parents—regardless of religion—will want to raise their kids in a suburb with good public schools.


Threads like this often don’t raise the topic of the role parochial schools have played in stemming “white flight” to the suburbs in cities like ours. Currently living in a Midwestern rust belt city, Catholic and private schools are the only educational options that are keeping middle class families in our city’s neighborhoods within the city’s public school district. When my wife was growing up, our neighborhood’s parish school was thriving, as was the neighborhood. Thirty years later, the neighborhood is doing well, but there are fewer families and the parish school is struggling. In comparison, the same suburbs of our city with the celebrated public school systems are also the ones that have vibrant parish schools. At the risk of generalizing, I would say that both the public and parochial schools in our city’s suburbs are more “elite” than the parochial schools within our city limits.


Conversations about the cost of parochial education tend focus on the east or west coast, where Catholic education has become out of reach for many middle class families. My experience in the Midwest has been different. For us, it will be a sacrifice to send our kids to Catholic schools, but it’s much more affordable than what I hear from friends and family on the east coast. Indeed, it’s a bargain. Even in our own region, when compared with the property taxes of some of our city’s suburbs, it’s a very good deal.


While some comments here (rightly) express concern about the need to support public schools, I would counter that those in our situation are still supporting those schools by living within the municipality and paying the taxes that support those schools. Were it not for private and parochial schools, there would be few middle class families with children living in the city limits of my city and paying the taxes and levies to support the local public school system. Our own parish and most of those nearby could never be accused of being “elite” in terms of the socioeconomic status of their families.


More importantly, though, my wife and I want to raise our kids in a school environment that is holistic through fostering not only academic excellence but also a community of faith. I certainly like Cathy’s idea about after school programs, and think there are many communities where this would be a good idea. But as Gen Xers, my wife and I have very few friends and acquaintances our age who are Catholic, aside from the handful of families we know through our parish. Where older generations might have benefited from sending their kids to public schools and exposing them to non-Catholic and non-Christian children, that exposure is no longer a challenge. For us, the challenge is finding a social environment where our kids can meet other children and families who practice the same faith. We don’t want to raise them in a Catholic ghetto or bubble; quite the opposite, we just want to expose them to other families that take the faith seriously. Likewise, I appreciate Catholic schools as a place where religion can be taken seriously and not just something relegated to the home or weekend activities at church.


I can’t judge anyone for wanting to choose a different route. Likewise, my observations aren’t meant to be one size fits all and address other parts of the US or small towns. There’s no doubt that you can get an excellent education in a public school, and I agree that parish religious ed needs to incorporate adults and CCD, and move beyond the parish school as the be-all of faith formation. Some of the healthiest parishes I’ve belonged to did not have a school. However, both of the parishes I’ve belonged to that did have schools played a vital role by keeping middle class families in neighborhoods that were considered to have bad public schools. Likewise, they allowed the kids in those schools to grow up knowing other kids who shared their faith.


Finally, there’s no doubt that the model for parochial schools needs to be adapted to the demographic trends that are affecting so many parishes. I, for one, would welcome conversations in my area about clustering schools to keep them sustainable as the number of parish families continues to decline.


James, thanks. But I do have a question-- by any chance do you live in South Bend (and do you attend St.Joe's?)  I ask because I think living near Notre Dame creates a very unique microclimate for the  Catholic schools  question. And I have heard argumpents like yours before from colleagues on the Law School faculty who send theirr kids to St. Joe's! 

And I suppose I worry when you say : Catholic school is a place where religion is taken seriously and not just relegated to the home or weekends that comes across to me as condescending to parents that don't send their kids to Catholic schools- it seems to me that you are implying they don't take their faith seriously. I just don't accept that. And I very much oppose any strategy to rejuvenate Catholic schools that depends on labeling Catholics who send their children to public schools unserious about their faith.

Hi Kathleen,

No, I'm not in South Bend. Your suggestion that the situation I describe is somehow the product of a microclimate like ND is one of the factors that motivated my original post. I'm in Ohio, and the situation I describe has applied to two different parishes I've belonged to in two cities (and would apply to other parishes in those cities as well, and their inner ring suburbs).

I think your worry misinterprets my reasons for wanting to educate my kids in a Catholic school, nor do I feel bad about wanting a holistic environment that includes religious values to shape my kids' primary education. I was speaking of public schools themselves, not the families that choose them. I mean no condescension when I say that public *schools* are not places that take religion seriously. Even with a constituency of families that do take it seriously, the public school itself is not an arena where you would (or should) have catechesis, liturgical celebrations, social justice projects or mission statements grounded in a confessional interpretation of the Gospel. As a product of public schools myself I know that to be true, and rightly so. The condescension you fear is one that I've encountered in older Catholics, but I think the battle you and others describe reflects the conflict of a previous generation. That battle is over, in my opinion. The vast majority of practicing Catholics send their kids to public schools. (And in my experience, many of them are quick to point out that those public schools are superior to Catholic schools.) I agree that parishes need to adjust to the reality of that exodus. I don't find the attitude of condescension among the parents who send kids to my parish's school. They're friends with lots of the families who moved to a suburb and send their kids to a public school but still participate in parish life.






James, that's interesting and very comforting.  And I suppose, in the end, everything is seen through the filter of experience.  But the condescension I've seen  first hand, at Notre Dame and elsewhere, doesn't come from older Catholics.  It comes from what I call "evangelical Catholics" --who are concerned to emphasise the distinctness of Catholic educaton. Very interestingly, they are often converts.  At Notre, Dame, there was a big backlash when one of my colleagues, who is the policy director for ND's Alliance For Catholic Education, was widely perceived as insulting public schools and the people go to them.  She has her kids in the local parochial school.  It wasn't pretty. And I have seen that attitude firsthand in other people, who are younger parents.

 I think the idea that Cathoic schools are somehow essentially better academically  is being subject to challenge: I don't know how it's going to shake out, but I can't dismiss it out of hand.

My concern is to perpetuate Catholic education--not only or necessarily Catholic parochial schools.  I also am deeply committed to the importance of public schools, and think I have an obligation to support them in order to promote the common good. And I dont' think public schools don't take religion seriously--I think they take it very seriously, and recognize that there are deeply divisive conflicts aroud it. I respect that.  

I think if the particular parochial school you have found works for you and your kids, by all means send them there--God bless you. But when I think what will be of the most help for most kids, most places, I think we need to think more broadly. I don't want to exclude Catholic shcools. But I don't want them to be the only form of Catholic education that has support. 

And what I'm interested in, myself, I suppose, is finding ways to give religious education more effectively to the vast majority of kids who don't go to Catholic school.



Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment