October 18, 2010

Getting Our Money’s Worth

I wish Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan had spent more time presenting the “evidence” he so briefly cites in “The Catholic Schools We Need” (9/13). Much of this reference material is not readily available to me. And I need a clearer definition of Catholic schools.

The contributions of inner-city Catholic elementary schools and high schools are undisputed. But I am harder pressed to understand the need for parochial elementary schools in middle-class suburban communities where public schools are effective teaching and “civilizing” institutions and are supplemented by religious education classes at church.

How do Catholic schools compare in these settings, and to what shall we compare them? Is there research comparing the outcomes for alumni of parochial schools and those, like my children, who attended public schools and C.C.D.? What is the difference in happiness, success, religious practice and ethical attitudes for these two groups? I am concerned because 30 percent to 35 percent of my own parish’s net revenue subsidizes our parochial elementary school, and I don’t know what we are getting for that expenditure.

Robert V. Levine

Collegeville, Pa.

What Keeps Them Faithful?

Though my experience is limited, I do not believe that Archbishop Dolan’s premise (9/13) that Catholic school graduates “emerge as lifelong practitioners of their faith...and will be leaders in church and society” is borne out as often as he might hope. I went through all Catholic schools; my husband never attended one. Yet we are both active in the parish and cherish our Catholicism.

On the other hand, we have many friends who sent their children to Catholic schools, and the adult children no longer practice the faith. Our two children did not attend parish schools and are active Catholics. Nor does the evidence bear out that Catholic school graduates are committed to social justice.

There must be other experiences that keep people in the church. America might look into the other factors, like family background, examples of teachers, liturgies and homilies that strengthen faith.

Claire Marmion

Long Beach, Calif.

Read & Write, Right & Wrong

Bravo for Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan’s article (9/13). But as an alumnus of 16 years of Catholic education and a former educator in a Franciscan high school and Jesuit university, I would add to your list of causes and actions.

(1) Catholics have allowed their students to be absorbed by public schools for decades rather than organize to demand the support we have paid for with our taxes. (2) Catholic charity and philanthropy have never targeted academic excellence in elementary education. (3) Competition for Catholic dollars is fierce and protected by the traditional recipients. (4) Equity requires tuition assistance for those who cannot afford it, especially Hispanic immigrants from Central America. (5) The bishops must plan a national development effort. I remember the words of my college friend Tim Russert about his seventh grade teacher, Sister Mary Lucille: “She founded a school newspaper and appointed me editor and changed my life.” His teachers, he said, taught him to read and write and tell right from wrong.

Bob Longo

Cleveland, Ohio

Time for Something New

My heart resonates with Archbishop Dolan’s article (9/13), but I feel we are not paying enough attention to the signs of the times. The goals of Catholic schools—inculturating our children and promoting their growth in faith—can be met by other means. There are simply not enough philanthropic dollars available to preserve the current Catholic school system. Meanwhile, the graduation rate of Hispanic Catholic immigrants is disastrously low.

Perhaps we are called to develop a response other than a separate school system. In the 19th century, Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minn., wanted to work with the public schools by conducting the religious education of our children during released time in classrooms rented in public schools. This was squelched by the rest of the American hierarchy.

Maybe the charter school movement has presented an opportunity to return to Ireland’s idea.

David Haschka, S.J.

President, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Minneapolis, Minn.

No Need to Be Roman

In response to the editorial “Truly Catholic” (10/4): As the Roman Church becomes more a fortress church, we need an American Catholic church that is sui iuris. The Roman Church of the Crusades, sex scandals, the Vatican bank scandal and Vatican princes no longer identifies with many people, and we no longer identify with it. Many in Europe and the United States have left.

By allowing the patriarchs to have authority only in the Middle East, the Roman Church would also put the Eastern churches in a box. It makes second-class citizens of their members who live elsewhere. The existence of other Catholic churches proves that Catholics do not need to be Roman to be Catholic. The preservation of the Roman Church is not important. What is important is only that the church’s work, its social teaching, survive.

Ken Chaison

Bethesda, Md.

Close Eyes; Open Mouth

Alone worth the cost of the subscription to America is its editor’s brief but luminous essay “A Classic Revisited” (9/27) on Cardinal Newman and the role of the laity in the church.

As the writer, Drew Christiansen, S.J., says, “When the teaching office leans excessively on its authority, it mistakes commanding for teaching.” For Newman, as he found the clerical tradition in Ireland, the laity were “treated like good little boys.”

It is difficult for us to realize that Newman, now safely beatified, was once the subject of frequent delations to Rome as “dangerous” and “untrustworthy.” Time, though, has demonstrated the topicality of his words for mature laypeople, recognized and consulted for their proper role in public life.

E. Leo McMannus

Venice, Fla.

Environmental Ethic

Kyle T. Kramer’s “Appalachia’s Wounds” (10/4) is terrific. I posted it to my Facebook profile and will direct students in my introduction to theology course to it, since we have discussed the relationship of the biblical creation narratives and wisdom literature’s poetry on creation to a Christian environmental ethic.

Jerry Vigna

Cherry Hill, N.J.

Make Me Proud

After reading the two forthright and courageous editorials “Mosque Hysteria,” on the Park51 community center, and “Hold to the Deadline,” on leaving Afghanistan (9/13), I was again proud to have once added the letters S.J. to my name.

I would be even more proud if your editorials could address the vital if controversial question of the biased attitude and behavior this country often shows toward Israel in its relations with Palestine.

Finally, I would react with humble satisfaction if America could bring up for discussion the church’s rigid attitude toward contraception, an attitude so hurtful to thousands of poor and unprepared mothers-to-be.

Edward L. Mooney

St. Petersburg, Fla.

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