An Open Invitation
Superintendents and the National Catholic Educational Association respond to “Reinventing Catholic Schools,” by Charles Zech (8/29).
Charles Zech fails to mention the incredible work being done in Catholic schools across the country today. As the superintendents of Catholic schools and the head of the National Catholic Educational Association, we work each and every day in schools that look nothing like what the author describes.
Professor Zech writes, “It is no longer good stewardship on the part of Catholic dioceses and parishes to continue supporting the old model of Catholic parochial schools.” This implies that those dedicated servants who sacrifice and work daily in these institutions, along with students and families, are wasting church resources. We see funds spent on Catholic schools as an investment in children and the future of the church. The idea of stewardship is to return with increase to the Lord, and research consistently demonstrates that graduates of Catholic schools are among the most academically prepared, generous and civically engaged.
Professor Zech writes that “over time the Catholic population has migrated to the suburbs and increasingly to the South and West…. But the parishes and parochial school buildings still tend to be located in urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest.” In fact, there are already many thriving Catholic schools and parishes in the South and West. Their growth is driven by young, mostly immigrant families who desire a Catholic school education. To give up on these vital institutions would be akin to eliminating Catholic schools in the Northeast 100 years ago, when they provided the foundation that allowed Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrant populations to work their way up in American society. The same work, with the same goal, continues today.
The true story of Catholic schools in the United States is their continued success, despite difficulties, and their ability to overcome challenges. Catholic schools continue to outperform public and private schools and do a particularly effective job with low-income, minority students. Professor Zech writes that “many urban parochial schools find themselves serving a population that struggles to afford parochial school tuition. Many of these students are not Catholic.” This indicates a lack of understanding of Catholic schools, especially in the West, where the urban population is largely Catholic. Shuttering schools that serve low-income populations contradicts our vital mission to provide a “preferential option for the poor.” Affordability of our schools is a substantial challenge, even while our schools attempt to maintain a relatively low cost of tuition. The momentum of the school choice movement has greatly assisted our families; to date, 27 states and the District of Columbia have some form of parental choice program, and the trend is toward greater levels of public funding support.
To further provide assistance to those low-income families, there are tremendous philanthropic support and great partnerships, from the Catholic Education Foundation in Los Angeles to the Catholic School Foundation in Boston and so many more. The value of our schools is perhaps most evident in weekly giving from our Catholic parishioners, many of whom do not have school-age children of their own, who give selflessly to their local parishes knowing that they are supporting Catholic school education, which brings life and vitality to our parishes.
If, as Professor Zech states, the issue of a lack of Catholic giving is such a significant limitation, we should focus on that cause rather than the effect of reduced funds for ministries. Catholic schools are a ministry and continue to be one of the church’s most effective instruments for passing on the faith from one generation to the next.
That might be the best argument against what Professor Zech proposes. Converting Catholic schools, which infuse the faith throughout the curriculum and the school day, to charter schools would change the essential character of the institutions. There is no such thing as a Catholic charter school. Surely, public charter schools try to mimic Catholic schools with character education and uniforms, but there is not a character education program or a values-based curriculum that compares to teaching the faith. If Catholic schools disappear in great numbers, parishes will not be far behind.
Every day the 150,000 Catholic school educators in the country, supported by pastors, superintendents, bishops and the National Catholic Educational Association, teach and form students because they believe in Catholic education. We welcome Professor Zech and his colleagues from the Villanova Church Leadership Roundtable to visit with us and any of our Catholic schools to see the great work being done.
Faith and Action
Re: “Saint of Darkness” by James Martin, S.J. (8/29): Thank you for this great interview with with Brian Kolodiejchuk, the promoter of Mother Teresa’s cause. I was privileged to know Mother Teresa through her lay association, the Co-workers. My time with Mother Teresa, from my first visit to Calcutta in 1981 to my last encounter with her at a meeting in Antwerp in 1993, made such a huge impact on my life. At the age of 24, I learned from Mother Teresa how faith and action have to work together. Even in her darkness, she was a bright light to so many of us. I, too, am confident that in her death she will touch many more people—not just the hungry and homeless—but those who lack kindness in their lives. She will be the saint for all people who struggle with loneliness.
In “The Demands of Love” (8/15), Cardinal Christoph Schönborn expresses an important message and interpretation of “The Joy of Love.” That is, for the divorced and remarried, the rigidity of doctrine does not automatically trump the existential reality of concrete circumstances, mercy and discernment consistent with God’s love. Equally important is Pope Francis’ call for a greater integration of a properly informed conscience in the praxis of the church.
While we have seen some bishops publicly declare that Communion is forbidden for all divorced and remarried Catholics without an annulment, it is clear that this is not the message of a careful reading of the papal exhortation. Other bishops believe that under certain circumstances and through a properly informed conscience, under the guidance of a priest, the divorced and remarried may be able to receive Communion. For this reason, it is not surprising that Pope Francis chose Cardinal Schönborn as the church’s official interpreter of “The Joy of Love.”
Prioritize Love and Respect
In “Faith Remains a Motivating Factor For V.P. Picks Pence and Kaine” (8/15), Michael O’Loughlin asserts that Mike Pence supports various issues that are of importance to Catholics. The first example listed was his intention to shut down the federal government in 2011 over the much attempted, never achieved goal of shutting down Planned Parenthood. The second example refers to his push for a bill that allowed business owners to refuse service to L.G.B.T. people for religious reasons.
As an educated, female Catholic struggling to maintain my connection with the church, I balked at these characterizations of what Catholics view as important. I would prioritize the functioning of our federal government over a foot-stomping technique that stalls any compromise. I would also prioritize Jesus’ teachings to love and respect each other over passing laws looking to ostracize and demean our fellow humans in the name of “religious reasons.”
The Good Fight
Re “A History of Violence” by Kevin Clarke and James Martin, S.J. (7/18): I appreciated the chronology of America’s efforts to inject some sanity into the gun issue over the past century. Please keep repeating the conclusion of the editorial board in 2013: Repeal of the Second Amendment is essential. The incremental changes proposed by legislators have only strengthened the rabid voices in opposition, and the death toll continues to rise. I long for courage on the part of legislators but despair of seeing it in my lifetime.
Catholic leaders must confront this head on and include it as a priority in their pronouncements. Editors, please do not let up.