More than 60 percent of Catholics under 18 are Hispanic, according to Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College. Yet only 17 percent of students at Catholic schools are Latino.
How to address that disparity was a central focus of a national town hall on Latinos and Catholic Education, co-hosted by America Media and The Catholic University of America on Oct. 30.
Mr. Ospino moderated a panel discussion with Bishop Oscar Cantú, coadjutor Bishop of San Jose, Calif., Veronica Alonzo, associate superintendent of Dallas Catholic Schools, Thomas Burnford, president of the National Catholic Educational Association and Monsignor Michael Clay, director of Pastoral Ministry Programs at The Catholic University of America.
"We are the past, present and future of the church. We are not another story; we are the story.”
“More than 43 percent of all Catholics [in the United States] are Hispanic,” Mr. Ospino said. “We are the past, present and future of the church. We are not another story; we are the story.”
The town hall, which was livestreamed, was part of an America initiative to foster meaningful conversations about the future sustainability and growth of the U.S. Catholic Church, with a particular emphasis on Hispanic Catholics. Coverage has focused on three key topic areas: immigration, criminal justice reform and Catholic education.
Catholic education “is for the common good, not just for the elite,” Bishop Cantú said, voicing his concern that Catholic education has become “a privilege for the privileged.” “Scholarship dollars are not the long-term solution, but we have to do it out of a sense of justice,” he said.
Bishop Cantú said that parents of Catholic school students “pay twice” because they pay their taxes and tuition. “Those are not state funds. They’re funds from our families. I think we need to remind our politicians about that. They should let people use their tax dollars how they want to,” he said.
“Where we’re headed is that Catholic schools will be for the elite and for the rich,” Bishop Cantú said, lamenting schools he has had to close “in the poorest parts of town.”
In addition to new funding models, Ms. Alonzo said Catholic education needs to explore different educational approaches as well, including bilingual schools. She described Catholic schools as “a path to heaven and to college.”
“If we truly want to evangelize, we have to invest in our future. What better way can we inform these citizens to vote in a way that supports our Catholic values?”
Catholic education also tends to suffer from a shortage of Latino teachers, Ms. Alonzo said. She argued for higher teacher salaries and encouraged educators to ask Latino students to consider the teaching profession.
“If we truly want to evangelize, we have to invest in our future,” she said, adding that Catholic education, faith formation and youth ministry should be three core areas of emphasis for the church. “What better way can we inform these citizens to vote in a way that supports our Catholic values?”
Monsignor Clay, who oversees formation for seminarians at Catholic University, has worked in Hispanic ministry for more than 20 years. When he was a pastor, his parishioners asked him to allow a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be placed within the church.
“Within three months of them putting her in the church, the community went from 50 people worshipping in Spanish at Mass on Sundays to 350 people,” Monsignor Clay said. “When I asked later what had happened, I’ll never forget the response. ‘If she’s welcomed in the church, we know we’re welcomed in the church.’”
The experience helped him realize that he had to spend time learning from the Latino community, he said. Monsignor Clay shares those lessons with the seminarians he oversees.
Mr. Burnford said the growing number of Latino students presents an opportunity for Catholic schools to flourish. He noted that 26 states had tax credit or school choice legislation and philanthropic support for Catholic schools is also on the rise. “But it is not about enrollment,” he said. “It is about handing on the faith to our children from generation to generation.”
More than 75 percent of Latino students are at underperforming public schools, Mr. Burnford said, a figure he called “horrific.” The church needs to address the problem by holding the government accountable, whether or not the students end up in Catholic schools, he said.
“Our faith is not some huge institutional endeavor,” Mr. Burnford said. “Our faith is relational. It is person to person. It starts with the name of Jesus Christ, but it filters through. Our church is ultimately about who we get to know.”
The next event related to the initiative is scheduled for Dec. 11 at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. Archbishop Gustavo García, Norma Pimentel, M.J., and Sean Carroll, S.J., will lead a conversation on immigration.