The National Catholic Review
Timothy Michael Dolan
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When St. Paul describes the gifts God has given the church, he includes teaching among the most important (1 Cor 12:28). No surprise there. “Go teach!” was the final mandate of Jesus. History has long taught that without teachers to announce the Gospel and educate the young, the church struggles to survive. Evangelization through good teaching is essential to Catholic life. Pastoral leaders in developing nations say that Catholic education is what attracts people to Jesus and his church. When it comes to education, nobody has a better track record than the church.

In the 20th century, for example, there was no greater witness to the effectiveness of Catholic schools than the Nazi and Communist efforts to destroy them. Pope Benedict XVI’s own beloved homeland—where to be Bavarian was to be Catholic—was perhaps hardest hit in all of Germany. By January 1939 nearly 10,000 German Catholic schools had been closed or taken over by the Nazi Party. Tyrants know and fear the true strength of a Catholic education: what parents begin in the home, Catholic schools extend to society at large.

But what of today’s Catholic schools that exist in a world largely free of those sorts of 20th-century threats? Are we not facing our own crisis of closure for the Catholic school in America?

The answer is yes. Statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association tell a sobering tale about Catholic schools in the United States. From a student enrollment in the mid-1960s of more than 5.2 million in nearly 13,000 elementary and secondary Catholic schools across America, there are now only half as many, with just 7,000 schools and 2.1 million students enrolled.

The reasons for the decline are familiar: the steady drop in vocations to the religious teaching orders who were the greatest single work force in the church’s modern period; the drastic shift in demographics of the late-20th century that saw a dramatic drop-off in Catholic immigration from Europe; the rising cost of living since the late 1970s that forced nearly every American parent to become a wage-earner and put Catholic education beyond their budget; and the crumbling of an intact neighborhood-based Catholic culture that depended upon the parochial school as its foundation.

The most crippling reason, however, may rest in an enormous shift in the thinking of many American Catholics, namely, that the responsibility for Catholic schools belongs only to the parents of the students who attend them, not to the entire church. Nowadays, Catholics often see a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it. The result is predictable: Catholics as a whole in the United States have for some time disowned their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school simply because their own children are not enrolled there, or their parish does not have its own school.

Widespread Benefits

The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong. So all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead. Thus, we Catholics need to ask ourselves a risky question: Who needs Catholic schools, anyway?

The answer: We all do. Much of the research on Catholic education conducted over the last five decades—from the Rev. Andrew Greeley to the University of Notre Dame; from the National Opinion Research Center to the work of independent, often non-Catholic scholars—has answered with a unanimous voice that without a doubt Catholic schools are an unquestioned success in every way: spiritually, academically and communally. More to the point, the graduates they produce emerge as lifelong practitioners of their faith. These Catholic graduates have been, are and will be our leaders in church and society.

Consider:

• The academic strength of Catholic schools is unassailable. Researchers like Helen Marks, in her essay “Perspectives on Catholic Schools” in Mark Berends’s Handbook of Research on School Choice (2009), have found that when learning in a Catholic school is done in an environment replete with moral values and the practice of faith, its test scores and achievements outstrip public school counterparts.

• Updating the work of John Coleman in the early 1980s, Professor Berends also estimates that two factors—the influence of Catholic values and the fostering of Catholic faith and morals—are the single biggest supports for the success of many young people, Catholic or not, educated in inner-city Catholic schools.

• Sociologists like Father Greeley, in his book Catholic Schools in a Declining Church (1976), and Mary Gautier, in her more recent article “Does Catholic Education Make a Difference?” (National Catholic Reporter, 9/30/05), have found that graduates of Catholic schools are notably different from Catholic children not in parochial schools in four important areas: 1) fidelity to Sunday Mass and a keener sense of prayer; 2) maintaining pro-life attitudes, especially on the pivotal topic of abortion; 3) the personal consideration of a religious vocation and 4) continued support for the local church and community, both financially and through service projects, for the balance of their adult lives.

• Catholic school graduates make good citizens, deeply committed to social justice, the care of the poor and the planet, proud volunteers in the church and in community. The widespread institution of service program requirements in Catholic schools over the last two decades has helped to create an entire generation of generous, socially minded alumni ready to help, no matter the need.

More could be written, of course, about how Catholic schools continue to excel in so many ways, helping to form citizens who are unabashedly believers in the way they live out what is most noble in our American identity. The few points listed above are potent reminders of the many long-term effects that Catholic schools have on the formation of their students. As both history has shown and researchers have documented, there are plenty of reasons for all American Catholics to take proud ownership of Catholic schools.

Reviving Catholic Schools

Not only should the reasons behind changes in attitude toward Catholic schools give us pause, but also the consequences of letting this school system decline. If Catholic education promotes lifelong commitment to faith and virtue, a high sense of social justice, greater numbers of religious vocations and an embrace of a way of life based on responsible stewardship, then will not its continued decline risk further erosion in all of these areas? Catholic history can answer this clearly.

In New York, for example, a nagging concern from the 19th century is re-emerging at the start of the 21st. My predecessor, Archbishop John Hughes—famously known as Dagger John for his fearsome wit and readiness to fight for Catholic rights—struggled to rid the New York public schools in the 1840s of their anti-Catholic bias. He was convinced, after watching immigrant families fight discrimination, that “the days had come, and the place, in which the school is more necessary than the church” (from James Burns’s A History of Catholic Education in the United States, emphasis added). Quite a statement—one echoed by several of his brother bishops, including a saint, John Neuman, bishop of Philadelphia, and the scholar and reformer John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria, who said that “without parish schools, there is no hope that the Church will be able to maintain itself in America” (see David Sweeney’s The Life of John Lancaster Spalding). These men understood that until Catholic schools were up and running, Catholic life would be stagnant. They made the establishment of Catholic schools their priority, and, thank God, most other American bishops followed their example. In 1956, for instance, my own parish in Ballwin, Mo., built its school even before its church, and I am sure glad they did, because that year I entered first grade to begin the most formative eight years of my life.

Given the aggressive secularization of American culture, could it be that Catholics are looking at the same consequences that met those 19th-century prelates? Today’s anti-Catholicism hardly derives from that narrow 19th-century Protestantism, intent on preserving its own cultural and political hold. Those battles are long settled. Instead, the Catholic Church is now confronted by a new secularization asserting that a person of faith can hardly be expected to be a tolerant and enlightened American. Religion, in this view, is only a personal hobby, with no implications for public life. Under this new scheme, to take one’s faith seriously and bring it to the public square somehow implies being un-American. To combat this notion, an equally energetic evangelization—with Catholic schools at its center—is all the more necessary.

The 21st-century version of the Hughes predicament, which tried to establish Catholic rights in the face of a then anti-Catholic America, would seem to suggest that without Catholic schools the church in the United States is growing less Catholic, less engaged with culture and less capable of transforming American life with the Gospel message. As long as we Catholics refuse to acknowledge that the overall health of the church in the United States is vitally linked not only to the survival but the revival of the Catholic school, we are likely to miss the enormous opportunity this present moment extends.

It is time to recover our nerve and promote our schools for the 21st century. The current hospice mentality—watching our schools slowly die—must give way to a renewed confidence. American Catholic schools need to be unabashedly proud of their proven gritty ability to transmit faith and values to all their students, particularly welcoming the immigrant and the disadvantaged, whose hope for success lies in an education that makes them responsible citizens. This is especially true for the Catholic Hispanics in the country, whose children account for a mere 4 percent of the Catholic school population. Failure to include the expanding Hispanic population in Catholic education would be a huge generational mistake.

To re-grow the Catholic school system, today’s efforts need to be rooted in the long-term financial security that comes from institutional commitment through endowments, foundations and stable funding sources and also from every parish supporting a Catholic school, even if it is not “their own.” Catholic education is a communal, ecclesial duty, not just for parents of schoolchildren or for parishes blessed to have their own school. Surely American Catholics have sufficient wealth and imagination to accomplish this.

It is both heartening and challenging to remember that Catholic churches and schools were originally built on the small donations of immigrants who sacrificed nickels, dimes and dollars to make their children Catholics who are both well educated and fully American. Have we Catholics lost our nerve, the dare and dream that drove our ancestors in the faith, who built a Catholic school system that is the envy of the world?

We cannot succumb to the petty turf wars that pit Catholic schools against religious education programs and other parish ministries. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the church is all about both/and, not either/or. Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification. The entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear.

As the Most Rev. Roger J. Foys, Bishop of Covington, has said: “While there may be alternatives to Catholic education, there are no substitutes.”

Read responses to Archbishop Dolan's article from parents, scholars and educators.

Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, has just released “Pathways to Excellence,” a new course of long-term planning for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York.

Comments

Mary Garbe | 12/28/2011 - 10:01am
Catholic schools can and do provide a first-rate education. But what about our children with intellectual disabilities and other special needs? I rarely read concerns about how to best provide for them, include them, or educate them. I have a beautiful, curious, insightful, and spiritual 14 year old daughter with Down Syndrome. Our Diocese does have a small, seperate school for children with intellectual disabilities and I applaud those efforts. But, the inclusion model should also be considered for some Catholic Schools. Yes, it's more expensive and more complex to educate our children with special needs. But, how beautiful would it be for the "typical" Catholic School to be a vibrant home of learning for all kinds of learners! The benefits are enormous! When typically developing children grow up and learn alongside their peers with disabilities, they develop relationships that go to the core of our faith. As we look to the future of Catholic education, why not consider a truly inclusive model that would show the world that we as Catholics deeply value every child's potential.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 6/25/2011 - 3:35pm
It's now June and schools are closing.
In NYC Rice Hs and in the NYT yesterday a genuine article about St. Martin of Tours in the Bronx.
I think that Baltimore in its planning for school reorganization is doing far better than New York.
The bearacracy there seems  to me and my friends there to see service to the poor as rather expendable, despite nice words.
I fear we are becoming a Church  of the middle class that is essentially concerned with that.
Charles Murphy | 3/31/2011 - 5:05pm



The Archbishop gushed in print while in Milwaukee that EVERY parish should have a school.




Hasn't he (or at least his minion) closed almost three dozen schools in his own local church?




The stubborn refusal of bishops to address catechetical needs and methods for all ages is endemic to their mindset. They can't manage without unpaid or underpaid women religious, who always did all the work. They imitate the "day school" model and have no idea how to liven and empower some sort of other styles of teaching. They publish a Catechism which they think will hand on the faith just because it came from the Vatican and has a crazy quilt of quotations from the centuries.




The Catholic School is the sole and best option does not show any awareness of the times. The "the new evangelization" does not require companion teaching of Catholic math or geography.

3609153 | 1/26/2011 - 8:24am
The Catholic Schools are too expensive under modern conditions. 

A "preferential option for the poor" should be maintained in our Catholic
Schools. If we find that we cannot afford to keep our schools open to the
poor, the schools should be closed and the resources used for something else
which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a
church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the
poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the
middle-class and rich fend for themselves.
Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must close and the resources
used for "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" and other programs which can
be kept open to the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic
Schools for centuries. We can get along without them today. The essential
factor is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely,
THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the
poor come first.


robert johnson | 1/25/2011 - 11:31pm
I was struck by this comment:
If Catholic education promotes lifelong commitment to faith and virtue, a high sense of social justice, greater numbers of religious vocations and an embrace of a way of life based on responsible stewardship, then will not its continued decline risk further erosion in all of these areas? Catholic history can answer this clearly.

Catholic schools do not promote those things. History answers clearly that if you want to ensure that your child does not grow up to be a faithful Catholic, send them to Catholic school.
Norman Costa | 12/18/2010 - 4:18pm

 


Bishop Timothy Dolan is a recent arrival to my neck of the woods, and I am still sizing him up to see how he will develop as a leader and good neighbor. I liked Bishop Dolan's tract, "The Catholic Schools We Need," for a number of reasons. It was well written, and his analysis and message were very clear. This makes discussing the issues easier. I thought it was good, as far as it went. There is more to be said, and some comments have made that point, already. 

"The reasons for the decline [of American Catholic schools] are familiar:

1. "[T]he steady drop in vocations to the religious teaching orders who were the greatest single work force in the church’s modern period;"

Agreed! As a percentage of the U.S. Catholic population, the decline started at the very end of the 19th century. Absolute numbers hid this fact until the precipitous declines in raw numbers were obvious to everyone.  

How is the Church going to recruit another great work force through vocations to religious teaching orders? You cannot find a solution to a problem unless you can state what the problem is, in clear terms, and then identify the cause of the problem. If you can state the problem and its cause, accurately, you are well along to coming up with a solution. I have yet to see a coherent explanation of the decline in vocations for the American Church that covers the last 120 years. Solutions cannot emerge if the cause is not understood. Identifying the cause of a problem is impossible if the problem itself is not understood.

Using a human resources model, in dealing with a work force, we find that recruiting is only part of managing people. The Church, the religious teaching orders, and the schools must work, also, on developing and retaining their work force. Finally, it is important that help be made available to those who cannot sustain a dedicated teaching career over a long time, and who need to make a dignified transition to different work or a new chapter in their life.

It is my personal view, that there are sufficient numbers of people who are educated, smart, talented, and resourceful who would dedicate a significant portion of their lives to the education of Catholic children, adolescents, and young adults. Why are they not stepping forward to sign up?


2. "[T]he drastic shift in demographics of the late-20th century that saw a dramatic drop-off in Catholic immigration from Europe;"

Agreed! Faith, the Church, native language, and social cohesion enabled arriving Catholics to survive and then prosper. The Church was a great socializing influence in creating U.S. citizens who could participate in our democracy. This country's debt to the American Catholic Church and schools, for the mainstreaming of immigrants into our nation, is incalculable. 

One question becomes obvious after noting the decline in immigration of Catholics. Are there not enough Catholics already in this country whose children can benefit from Catholic schools, even with declining birth rates? If the survival of Catholic schools is dependent upon large numbers of immigrant Catholics, yesterday and today, then something was missing all along in Catholic education. It seems as though Catholics are just now trying to find out what was missing.


3. "[T]he rising cost of living since the late 1970s that forced nearly every American parent to become a wage-earner and put Catholic education beyond their budget;"

Agreed! I wish I had something meaningful to contribute on this.


4. "...[T]he crumbling of an intact neighborhood-based Catholic culture that depended upon the parochial school as its foundation."

Agreed! The question is whether an intact neighborhood-based Catholic culture could ever be resurrected, or should be resurrected. With immigrant populations, a common native language and heritage built and sustained a neighborhood. Gaining an American identity and losing an immigrant identity lessened the need to remain in an intact neighborhood. Of enormous destructive consequence for all neighborhoods, was the automobile-steel-concrete mentality (typified by Robert Moses) of abandoning cities AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS and creating sprawling suburbs.

Is there a way to regenerate a Catholic neighborhood? The answer may lie in how families choose where they will buy a house. The most compelling factor in determining where to buy a house is the quality of the schools. This creates a chicken versus the egg dilemma, but let us see how this might work.

Two examples come to mind - both are based upon faith, but one is racist. One is the rise of Christian day schools following the era of Civil Rights legislation. This racist phenomenon, for many but not all Christian churches, was a self-imposed segregation of whites from African Americans in the public schools. People will go to great lengths, expense, and sacrifice to protect their children and themselves from great evil - real or imagined.

The second example, that I have witnessed, is the relocation of families to follow a revered religious teacher or spiritual leader. I've seen this at Hindu Ashrams, and Buddhist temples and monasteries. Parents who have found a spiritual life for themselves and their children will relocate to another part of the country so they can be near their spiritual leader, the houses and symbols of worship, the rituals, spiritual education for their children, and a faith community of people like themselves.

In both examples, there is the assumption that the neighborhood provides, precisely, the spiritual culture they want. Build a school and they will come! Maybe not, if the spiritual culture is found lacking. The Ashram will close, the church will be empty, and the neighborhood evaporates when the Guru or Bishop is sexually abusing minors and others in their spiritual care. 


5. "The most crippling reason...[is a] shift in...thinking...that the responsibility for Catholic schools belongs only to the parents of the students..., not to the entire church."

Agreed! Not until the laity, men and women, is a significant and forceful part of the governing and administration of the American Catholic Church, will there be any hope of the ENTIRE CHURCH assuming responsibility for Catholic schools. When laity have the ability to impact decisions on personnel, programs, and finances (dogma is left to the Curia,) then there is real hope for Catholic schools.

Shannon Perry | 10/29/2010 - 6:27pm
When you can convince the powers that be in charge of who gets help and who doesnt and get rid of the elitest mentality, and bullying - is when Catholic schools will get better.
Elaine Tannesen | 10/12/2010 - 12:38am
Today I drove past the Catholic grade school that I attended sixty years ago.  It was an opportunity to reflect on the lifestyle, neighborhood, and educational changes that have taken place since then.  In our principally blue collar neighborhood one salary was sufficient to support a family (even a large Catholic family) and everyone owned their home.  Almost every Catholic family sent their children to this school and it was the center of the community. Rich or poor, they could afford to do so.  Now, neither I nor my adult children could afford to live in this neighborhood and the school tuition, even with two adults working and considerable sacrifices, is just not possible for most families. 
Although I treasure the Catholic education that I received all the way through college, this was not a realistic possibility for my children.  As an educator for thirty years and parent of adult children, I have come to regard Catholic education as, unfortunately, simply not an option for most families, only for the elite, despite the claims of sacrifices involved.   My own children have attended parochial school, neighborhood public schools, alternative programs and have been homeschooled depending on their needs, greatly benefiting from each educational opportunity.  The only way that I would consider supporting parochial schools would be if they were truly available to all. There should be no class system in our church.
3698065 | 10/7/2010 - 9:08am
As a retired and now re-employed Catholic school principal, I am so happy to see an article such as this one being written. Many young parents today are under the false impression that one place of education is as good as the other and, in my opinion, see a Catholic school education as outdated and irrelevant. In fact, I believe that true value lies deep within the very fiber of the Catholic school and the educational experience it provides to our children. Thank you for publishing this article. I am sharing it with everyone I can. This messge must get out.
3698065 | 10/7/2010 - 9:07am
As a retired and now re-employed Catholic school principal, I am so happy to see an article such as this one being written. Many young parents today are under the false impression that one place of education is as good as the other and, in my opinion, see a Catholic school education as outdated and irrelevant. In fact, I believe that, true value lies deep within the very fiber of the Catholic school and the educational experience it provides to our children. Thank you for publishing this article. I am sharing it with everyone I can. This messge must get out.
JAMES FANELLI | 10/4/2010 - 2:22pm

This article speaks effectively about the value and importance of Catholic schools.  It also articulates the need for expanded Development programs and other forms of financial support.  But one more element is urgently needed – government assistance to parents to make possible their choice of schools.


The priority of parental rights in education has repeatedly been affirmed by The Supreme Court as well as by church leaders.  But apart from a well organized effort in the 1970’s for federal tax credits, there has been no sustained campaign for substantial government assistance to parents, such as tax credits, or preferably, for vouchers.  Without a well organized program of advocacy, and the mobilization of parents, alumni, and other supporters of Catholic schools, and the commitment to long-term efforts we will be condemning ourselves to the continuing tragic decline in the numbers of Catholic schools.


In 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the prior rights of parents in the education of their children (Pierce v. Society of Sisters).  Unlike most Western democracies, we still have no way of making it possible for parents to exercise that right.  What will future generations of parents – and our own consciences – say to us if we allow this magnificent school system to diminish, and in many places disappear, because of our lack of sufficient effort to obtain justice for children and parents?  With over two million students, and many more millions of parents, alumni, and other advocates of Catholic schools, there is the potential for a potent political force to change public opinion and pass needed legislation.  Will we allow apathy to dictate our future?

BROTHER SHIELDS | 10/4/2010 - 2:06pm
Archbishop Dolan's article on Catholic schools was a shot in the arm for those of us involved in Catholic education.

As a principal of an elementary school sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, I nodded in agreement that it is time to recover our nerve to promote our schools for the 21st century.

Where are all the grads who were educated when Catholic schools were free or affordable?  Why aren't they rallying to rescue our schools?

It's time to send an "S.O.S." (Save Our Schools!) to all Catholics in order to revive our schools.

Long live Archbishop John Hughes!
Brother Edward Shields, F.S.C.
The La Salle School at St. Gabriel's Parish
East Elmhurst, New York
www.stgabeschool.com
St. John Baptist de La Salle, Pray for us!


BROTHER SHIELDS | 10/4/2010 - 1:22pm
Archbishop Dolan's article on Catholic schools was a shot in the arm for those of us involved in Catholic education.

As a principal of an elementary school sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, I nodded in agreement that it is time to recover our nerve to promote our schools for the 21st century.

Where are all the grads who were educated when Catholic schools were free or affordable?  Why aren't they rallying to rescue our schools?

It's time to send an "S.O.S." (Save Our Schools!) to all Catholics in order to revive our schools.

Long live Archbishop John Hughes!
Brother Edward Shields, F.S.C.
The La Salle School at St. Gabriel's Parish
East Elmhurst, New York
www,stgabeschool.com
St. John Baptist de La Salle, Pray for us!

John Siekierski | 10/1/2010 - 8:13pm
    Thank you, Archbishop Dolan, for your insightful article which, unfortunately, will probably fall on many deaf/not-interested ears, particularly those of some pastors with parishes that do not have a parish elementary school. They have their own financial woes and do not "see" the neighboring parish struggling financially with a school.
    About 10 years ago, our bishop, Dale J. Melczek, Diocese of Gary, attempted to do something to help, and it has. The Catholic Services Appeal-annual diocesan fund drive-has a goal of just over two million dollars. Initially, $250,000.00 was set aside for tuition assistance to Catholic families with children in grades 1 to 12. For several years now it has been $500,000.00.
    But I also needed to do something creative for my parish school-St. Stanislaus School, East Chicago, IN. About ten years ago I heard of the Fill Every Seat Program initiated in Dayton, OH, to help keep five dying inner city parish schools open. Businesses and other entities were asked to help fund a Foundation, interest from which would give financial assistance to these schools. Initiated also in the schools was a needs-based tuition so that every family could enroll their children at a negotiated tuition rate the family could afford. It worked. The idea is that the classroom cost is constant; a student in every seat/desk brings in some income; an empty seat/desk, nothing.
    I needed to begin this program in my school if it was to survive. East Chicago has the lowest per-capita income of any municipality in the State of Indiana. The population is over 50% Hispanic. The children in my school are about 90% Hispanic. My Catholic school parents complete a financial aid form which is sent to the Bishop's office and forwarded to a company which evaluates them and recommends a tuition assistance amount for each family. Some get nothing; most get something. Our school also has a business relationship with this company. We have our own forms-same ones as the Diocese. It is used for newly registered Catholic families and for non-Catholic families. We offer tuition assistance to every school family who requests it-even the families who received something from the Diocese. Our deacon sits down with each family, with the evaluation form in hand, and negotiates a tuition amount to be paid by the family. This year he gave $61,000.00 in tuition assistance, in addition to what the Diocese has given: $35,000.00. However, since we have no Foundation to off-set the tuition assistance we give, we are very heavy into fundraising. Our enrollment last year was 211; this year, 207. We are surviving. The bishop is helping. Other pastors are not.
Katherine McEwen | 9/21/2010 - 8:02pm
Bishop Dolan is right:  Catholic schools need to be re-formed.  I went through 12 years of Catholic school, plus a full academic year plus, at a local Catholic university. I wouldn't trade my education, particularly in language arts & the specifics of Catholic Christianity (I got a lot of dogma & other content in elementary school which I really appreciate; it's been a great foundation to grow on).  However, after working for more than 25 years in a local public school system & having yearned to go to a public middle school, I don't know that I would have sent kids to Catholic school over the local public schools.  I remember the very fine class distinctions of the neighborhood I grew up in: the parochial girls' high school was for girls of color or who couldn't afford my girls' high school; my high school  had a range of middle class students - professors' daughters, professionals' children, ie, doctors & lawyers, & the daughters of those who worked for the local large-scale employer of the day. The other local girls' high school was definitely for those of the upper-middle-class & up, or for those with pretensions.  My girls' high school is now a high-powered university prep school with none of the slightly more working-class skills classes it offered when I attended.  I know several sets of alumnae parents-some of whom attend my current Episcopal church-who valued the school for the education their daughters got.  However, as I said above, I'm not sure I would have sent kids to Catholic schools.  From my somewhat cursory current knowledge, the schools I went to have become elitist rather than accepting of a wide range of people-particularly socio-economically.  And when you attend urban public schools, you sure do get that socio-economic & cultural diversity that a private school may not bring. So, yes, US Catholic schools really need to redirect themselves back to their roots of the immigrants & working class people who often founded & supported them.
Bill Mazzella | 9/14/2010 - 9:29pm
William Horan has it right. Dolan did mention the terrible truth that the Hispanic population is outrageously low. What he does not mention is that it is the clergy's fault
for this great neglect. Millions of Hispanics from South and Central America were rejected by American Catholic parish schools and churches. So is the point to build a community of faith or further the RCC Empire. Archbishop Dolan is disturbed that the Pew Study shows that Catholics have a favorable view of Jesus while they have an unfavorable concept of the clergy. So doesn't the Archbishop and his colleagues have more important things to do? Like reforming the clergy for example. 

Or as John F Kavanaugh writes in the same issue of America: 

"In the public eye, the church is perceived as mounting its most urgent opposition in matters of sexuality and ecclesiastical law rather than of justice, charity and service."
http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12447
3609153 | 9/14/2010 - 5:00pm
Archbishop Doland fails to see the most important problem facing the Catholic Schools in the USA. That is: we can no longer afford to keep our Catholic Schools open to the poor.

A "preferential option for the poor" should be maintained in our Catholic
Schools. If we find that we cannot afford to keep our schools open to the
poor, the schools should be closed and the resources used for something else
which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a
church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the
poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the
middle-class and rich fend for themselves.
Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must close and the resources
used for "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" and other programs which can
be kept open to the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic
Schools for centuries. We can get along without them today. The essential
factor is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely,
THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the
poor come first.


LEONARD VILLA | 9/10/2010 - 12:17pm
It is true that there are no threats to Catholic schools like Nazis/Communists in our country.  There has been and is a more insidious threat to Catholic schools still going on: those who wish to secularize Catholic schools with an "us-too" philosophy imitating the elites in secular education and hence seeking to make the Catholic school simply sociologically Catholic.  This threat has caused great destruction since the Land O'Lakes (1967) statement of university "independence" from the Church and has allowed for all kind of shannigans on Catholic campuses.  This has affected high schools and grade schools especially with the loss of religious commited to Catholic doctrine. The Holy See recognized this (in my opinion too late 1990!) with the document Ex Corde Ecclesiae on what constitutes a Catholic university.  In my opinion this document arrived in the US DOA because of a lack of will to do anything about the secularizers, the dissenters, and the scandals that often take place in so-called Catholic school envirmonments.  Incredibly the folks that brought the problem to Catholic universities were made part of the "solution" by the Holy See, a sign that really nothing was going to be done about Catholic education hence the DOA status of Ex Corde here. You need a see change in governance on the part of the Holy See and the American bishops to undo that DOA status and the harm in general to Catholic education.  We have turned out generations of illiterates in Catholic doctrine, morality, and dissenters because in too many cases that's all they received. Until that is confronted squarely, it will be more of the same.  I think it was Abp Sheen who pointed out that a pseudo-Catholic school does more harm than an openly secular and/or anti-Catholic school.
Craig McKee | 9/10/2010 - 3:03am
Considering the way women religious, many now in their golden years of retirement after providing the backbone of the American Catholic school system, are currently being treated by the hierarchy both at home and in Rome, does the Archbishop really expect either a new flourishing of cost-effective female vocations to teaching orders OR scores of young lay people to train for and devote themselves to such a mission?
Robert Longo | 9/9/2010 - 6:21pm
Bravo your Excellency!  Well said.  As an alumnus of 16 years of Catholic education and a former educator in a Franciscan high school and Jesuit university, I would like to add to your list of causes and actions:

1) Catholics have ALLOWED the transition of their students to be slowly and easily absorbed by the pubic school systems in the USA for decades, instead of mobilizing statewide and nationally and demanding services to be paid for with our taxes. The mere threat of closing Catholic schools in unison is a powerful negotiating tool. Unfortunately that threat used to be twice as strong as it is today.
2) Catholic charity and philanthropy has NEVER targeted its most strategic weapon for faith and values formation and academic excellence, namely Catholic elementary education.  It was assumed that the combination of tuition and parish assistance was enough to support the parish elementary school. Parish control created a bottoms-up power-base, and ergo diocesan or provincial leverage of resources has been barely used.  This is a no-brainer for gaining buying power and aggregating the purchasing of expensive commodities and systems like technology, educational materials, utilities, sports equipment etc.
3) Competition for Catholic philanthropic dollars is fierce and protected by the traditional recipients of Catholic cause money such as Catholic charities, Catholic universities and Catholic secondary prep schools. Opening up this financial competition to insure that the primary feeder system for Catholic education and faith formation is protected and thriving must be driven top-down by the hierarchy, similar to the unappetizing but necessary reorganization and consolidation of parishes. Required evangelization from the Sunday pulpit and directed by the USA Bishops is also a MUST!
4) Equity for all Catholic children to attend Catholic elementary schools is a a moral imperative.  Financial subsidies must provide for scholarships to all and any Catholic students who desire to attend Catholic schools but cannot afford the tuition and other expenses.  The predominantly Catholic Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America require easy and local access to attending Catholic schools, especially in the southern and western USA. This transcends economic, geographic or demographic boundaries.
5) Finally, the United States Conference of Bishops must architect and execute a plan that is a sustained campaign to promote and finance Catholic elementary and then secondary education.  This includes well thought out Catholic private foundations aimed at needy populations.  Financial development efforts must be prioritized and driven by every diocese.  Economics and survival are the catalysts for a change of management and control of historically parish-based schools. 

I will always remember the words of my college friend the late Tim Russert, who wore his Catholic faith formation and K-16 Catholic education publicly and proudly, when he spoke  of his 7th grade teacher Sister Mary Lucille, "she founded a school newspaper and appointed me editor and changed my life", then he added, teachers in Catholic schools "taught me to read and write, and also how to tell right from wrong."
Robert Longo | 9/9/2010 - 6:21pm
Bravo your Excellency!  Well said.  As an alumnus of 16 years of Catholic education and a former educator in a Franciscan high school and Jesuit university, I would like to add to your list of causes and actions:

1) Catholics have ALLOWED the transition of their students to be slowly and easily absorbed by the pubic school systems in the USA for decades, instead of mobilizing statewide and nationally and demanding services to be paid for with our taxes. The mere threat of closing Catholic schools in unison is a powerful negotiating tool. Unfortunately that threat used to be twice as strong as it is today.
2) Catholic charity and philanthropy has NEVER targeted its most strategic weapon for faith and values formation and academic excellence, namely Catholic elementary education.  It was assumed that the combination of tuition and parish assistance was enough to support the parish elementary school. Parish control created a bottoms-up power-base, and ergo diocesan or provincial leverage of resources has been barely used.  This is a no-brainer for gaining buying power and aggregating the purchasing of expensive commodities and systems like technology, educational materials, utilities, sports equipment etc.
3) Competition for Catholic philanthropic dollars is fierce and protected by the traditional recipients of Catholic cause money such as Catholic charities, Catholic universities and Catholic secondary prep schools. Opening up this financial competition to insure that the primary feeder system for Catholic education and faith formation is protected and thriving must be driven top-down by the hierarchy, similar to the unappetizing but necessary reorganization and consolidation of parishes. Required evangelization from the Sunday pulpit and directed by the USA Bishops is also a MUST!
4) Equity for all Catholic children to attend Catholic elementary schools is a a moral imperative.  Financial subsidies must provide for scholarships to all and any Catholic students who desire to attend Catholic schools but cannot afford the tuition and other expenses.  The predominantly Catholic Hispanic immigrants from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America require easy and local access to attending Catholic schools, especially in the southern and western USA. This transcends economic, geographic or demographic boundaries.
5) Finally, the United States Conference of Bishops must architect and execute a plan that is a sustained campaign to promote and finance Catholic elementary and then secondary education.  This includes well thought out Catholic private foundations aimed at needy populations.  Financial development efforts must be prioritized and driven by every diocese.  Economics and survival are the catalysts for a change of management and control of historically parish-based schools. 

I will always remember the words of my college friend the late Tim Russert, who wore his Catholic faith formation and K-16 Catholic education publicly and proudly, when he spoke  of his 7th grade teacher Sister Mary Lucille, "she founded a school newspaper and appointed me editor and changed my life", then he added, teachers in Catholic schools "taught me to read and write, and also how to tell right from wrong."
C Walter Mattingly | 9/9/2010 - 9:04am
An excellent article. Bishop Dolan is not overstating the importance of Catholic education to our faith and also to our nation, particularly our poorer inner-city children. Without an adequate education, the idea of equal opportunity, a basic tenet of the American way, is severely called into question. Yet since the fact is we have so few "free" religious to staff our schools, the voucher system is imperative if we are going to provide this alternative of a quality education and moral instruction to our neediest young citizens.
Daniel McGrath | 9/9/2010 - 9:01am

In 1971, as I was about to enter Kindergarten, my parents made the painful decision to remove my older brother, on the eve of his sophomore year, from St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, New Jersey, and enroll him in our town's public high school. I had two younger siblings about to enter school right behind me, and Catholic school tuition for five children was more than my parents could scratch together on my father's salary as a public school teacher, plus the money he made in various part-time jobs. He always worked at least two jobs until the time he neared retirement. My brother and older sister had for many years attended St. Benedict School, one of those parochial schools constructed on the edge of the suburban frontier in the 1950s and 60s. My sister was allowed to finish up eight grade before she joined the rest of us in the public school system which employed my father and which he knew in his heart was inferior to the Catholic schools that had nurtured him and my mother in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. 

It was a money thing.  

Today my young children attend the School of St. Elizabeth in Bernardville, New Jersey, because my wife and I agree that it is what's best for them. And because we can afford it. Our public schools are among the best in the county and the state. Nearly half of my very high property taxes go to funding those schools, which we plan to never use. For many people, that is a choice they cannot afford. For many others, the choices are about lifestyle-large homes, luxury cars, the clutter of modern American life.  

It's still a money thing.  

If Catholic schools are vital to the renewal of the Church, then why aren't we hearing that from our priests. Never in my adult life can I remember a priest talking from the pulpit about the importance of Catholic education. I'll allow for the possibility, however, that it does happen in those parishes that have schools, which my own does not. The USCCB should mandate that priests regularly extol the virtues of Catholic education. We should be encouraged to make choices about our own spending that allow us to provide Catholic education to our children. And we should find ways to make Catholic education accessible to those who simply can't afford it.  

Like most things in America, it's always a money thing.
William Gartside | 9/8/2010 - 8:31pm

The schools that are closing serve the most needy citizens who live in urban areas. Surburban Catholic schools have been able to survive by raising tuition and attracting students with family resourses. 

The church and the community have the responsibilty to form partnerships that will lead to the revitalization of urban Catholic Schools. Boston College, the Archdiocese of Boston and Saint Columbkille Parish have formed such an alliance. As a result, the student population has has grown by 20% over the past three years. The alumni association has come alive, Boston College provides needed professional resourses and finds doners for financial aid. As a result the school community is diverse both economically and culturally. The school is thriving. It just takes committment and a belief that Catholic urban education is a collective moral imperative.

Mike Shea | 9/8/2010 - 10:55am
Bravo, Archbishop Dolan!

My diocese (Rochester) is a perfect example of what can happen when Catholic schools have little or no real priority with the administration. In 1988 we had 39 Catholic elementary schools serving just over 16,000 children in Monroe County (our population center). By this past year the county was down to 11 schools with an enrollment of 3,446.

I find it no surprise, then, that our diocesan-wide weekend Mass attendance has fallen by over 25% in just the last 10 years and that our ordination rate has been essentially zero for even longer than that.

As the Archbishop said, "Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification. The entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear." The Diocese of Rochester could serve as a case study of the decline - the "suffering," to use His Excellency's term - that results from not giving our Catholic schools the priority they deserve.
Patrick Whaley | 9/7/2010 - 2:40pm
Bravo to Arch Dolan for his call for renewal. But why now. Why hasn't this been of such importance that most Metropolitans around the country haven't made this their number one issue. Talk about asleep at the wheel. The only reason they like the religious is because they worked for free. They talk the talk but do not walk the walk. In Denver, the archdiocese spent 10 mil on a Spirituality Year house for first year seminarians, so they could pray and analyze their vocations and not be infected by the laity. I am sure this was a recommendation from Rome.  At the end of the day it is always about the clerical hierarchy of the church.  Jees what a ranter I am.
THOMAS EXTEJT REV | 9/7/2010 - 12:56pm
Kudos to Archbishop Dolan for a thought-provoking article that every pastor, Catholic school administrator, faculty member and parent should read and take to heart.  I would add only two things: First, part of the reason for our enrollment decline is that people (Catholics included) are having fewer children.  When I was in Catholic grade school (1953-61) our family of five children was of average size, as I recall.  Last year, in our parish school that was just incorporated into a consolidated Catholic school, we had one family with four children enrolled, and two with three (including a set of twins). A few had brothers and sisters who were older or else pre-schoolers, but most of the rest of the 96 children had only one sibling, or else were only children.   People have limited the size of their families by either moral or immoral means;  that affects our enrollment today.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Catholic schools are (or should be) one of our primary means of evangelizing unchurched families.  I observed this phenomenon during my 19 years in the central city of Toledo.  Progress was slow, especially in the African-American community, partly because of a perception by African-Americans that it is disloyal to join a largely white church, and more so because we Catholics have rejected African-Americans on any number of occasions.  And yet progress was made.  At least in this diocese, most of the Catholic school closings have taken place in the central city.  If this is a nation-wide trend, then I fear that we are abandoning people who need to hear the Good News and be welcomed into the fullness of faith.