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Do we need Catholic Schools?

Both Dom Bettinelli and Amy Welborn comment on the elaborate and expensive renovations going on at Catholic high schools in the Boston area. Both wonder if these schools are really focusing on the correct mission for a Catholic school.

Before I say anything else, I first must say I graduated from Bishop Kelley Catholic High School and had a wonderful experience. I believe that experience was crucial to my holding on to my Faith through my early adult years. My older children have attended Catholic schools when they were available and had very good experiences. Still, my enthusiasm for Catholic schools has waned considerably in recent years.

Since moving to Northern Virginia, I have seen that the Catholic High Schools are prohibitively expensive. They seem no different than a secular private prep school. The parish grade schools are interesting. I see our parish pouring huge sums of money into a building project for the school. Yet I rarely if ever see the school reaching out to the parish. Our parish school was full a few years ago. Many of the children were not parish members. Yet, children who were members of the parish were denied admittance because there was no room. There seemed to be a preference for those willing to pay the premium price over those who paid the parish subsidized price. The school enrollment has dropped dramatically but parish members who were rudely snubbed before have no desire to fill the rolls now.

In another era Catholics were known for their large families and parish families would fill the parish schools. Now that Catholics are contracepting just like everyone else, schools have to squelch their Catholic identity to attract non-Catholic students. This defeats the whole point of Catholic schools. Catholic schools should be an academic extension of the Catholic community. On the parish level, the parish grade school should be part of the parish community. We are not supposed to be just filling desks. We are supposed to be reinforcing Catholic Faith and Catholic Values in our youth.

I think we are trying to utilize a model of Catholic education for a community that no longer exists. There is a place for Catholic schools in the inner city where the operation of schools is an act of charity. In typical suburbia, however, it seems ridiculous to pour inordinate sums of money into schools that educate only a small fraction of the Catholic youth. The Church would be better served by using those resources to offer quality Catholic catechesis to all of its youth and to their parents too!

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Tony said…
We pulled our children out of Catholic school when our oldest was in 5th grade. We didn't see much of a difference between the Catholic school and our local public school (which is very good in my opinion) except for a crucifix on the wall. With class sizes creeping up toward 30, I could not see paying $5000/year (for both girls) for the privilege of seeing a cricifix and talking about God in class.

We ran into the same problem as you with our parish school. I had been a prishioner at my church for years, and both of my girls had been baptized there. I was told my first daughter was on a waiting list for the pre school (which was in high demand). The first year, my daughter went to a Baptist pre-school, the next year I addressed both the pastor and parish council about my concerns as a parishioner. My daughter was bumped up to the top of the "waiting list".

One problem I've seen locally is that our Catholic schools are not really "parish schools" supported by the parish community. They have been consolodated under a county wide banner. So when they decide to close schools, they don't look at the schools which most need closing, they look to the schools that are not "politically connected" within the diocese.
Dismas said…
"The Church would be better served by using those resources to offer quality Catholic catechesis to all of its youth and to their parents too!"


There is a reason why books like Catholicism for Dummies are so popular. There is a desperate need for adult catechesis in America. Hopefully programs like Why Catholic? will spur some sort of change in the way our faith is taught.

Incidentally, I don't mean to unnecessarily bash the Catholicism for Dummies book. It really is a great book. I just think it is sad that so many cradle Catholics like myself feel the need to buy the book in the first place.
Catholic Mom said…
Tell me about Why Catholic--is this a curriculum for adults? Have you used it? I am very interested in fostering adult catechesis in my parish
Martin said…
"...I see our parish pouring huge sums of money into a building project for the school. Yet I rarely if ever see the school reaching out to the parish."

I'm curious. My kids are in the parish school (in NoVA) and there is no obvious connection between the school and parish. What sort of outreach would you have them do?
Catholic Mom said…

The easiest and most obvious outreach would be to share space. I can tell you that as a catechist I am read the riot act about making sure I disturb nothing down to the pens on the teacher's desk in the classroom. When the kids come in the next day they should see no evidence that those dirty public school kids have been in their room.It is made clear that we have no claim to any of the school rooms. This is school property--not parish property. We are unwelcome tenants. There is no space we can claim as our own. Not even a bulletin board. If the VCR doesn't work, the CCD program is immediately blamed.
The only outreach I ever see from the school is when they reach out their hand to ask for more money from the parish.

Last year one of the parochial vicars sent a note to the altar boys with a reference to the parish fun run. I knew that was something my son would enjoy. As the date drew closer I tried to find out more info. It turns out it was a school event. Rest of the parish wasn't welcome.

In March the school celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph by inviting the children and their fathers to attend daily Mass together. This would have been an ideal time to encourage the celebration of this feast with the entire parish but again this was a school only event. In fact, the school never has reached out to the parish community. I wanted to coordinate pro-life activities with both the CCD program and the school, but the school was not interested in a joint program.
Rosemary Bogdan said…
My children are all in Catholic schools and I think we do need them. These are very good Catholic schools, from a spiritual perspective. Neither are affiliated with parishes, though, and they are becoming prohibitively expensive. I think we need Cathlic schools but the goal should always be to keep tuition as low as possible to accomodate the greatest number of kids.... And no one should ever be turned away for lack of tuition money.
Dismas said…
"Tell me about Why Catholic--is this a curriculum for adults? Have you used it? I am very interested in fostering adult catechesis in my parish.

Why Catholic? is, for the most part, a study of the Catholic faith. It is a program designed for existing Catholics in need of adult faith formation. Rather orthodox in its approach, the course is very much centered around the teachings found in The Catechism. The course is far more in-depth than anything found in your typical RCIA program. Above all else, it is extremely popular, particularly here in New Jersey.

I haven't taken the course yet, in large part because they fill up so quickly. I will, however, take the course this upcoming Advent.

What follows is a link to their web site:

Why Catholic?
Michelle said…
I had the same problem as a CCD teacher at my last church.

I wanted to put my kids in Catholics schools, but became very disenchanted with the reality of non-Catholic teachers, secularized subjects, minimal Catholicism in the classroom, and daily Mass only once a month if that. There just didn't seem to be much point in spending all that money when I could have gotten the same thing at the public schools for free.
Kelli said…
I saw the comment above regarding Why Catholic? and we are just starting it in my parish south of Dallas. I'm going to be a small group leader and have been to all the training. I'm REALLY excited about it since I believe that lack of adult education about our faith is one of the greatest problems the Church faces today. It's basically a journey through the Catechism in a 12 week timeframe using small program-approved books within a 6-8 person group that meets for about 90 minutes weekly. In essence, it's an adult faith formation program that uses the Catechism as its base but ties it to sacred scripture. It helps Catholics learn what is unique about being a Catholic and how to defend our faith, how to live our faith, and most importantly, how to share it with our families and others.

Regarding the parish school system: our parish school eliminated the parishioner's discount a few years ago. Since I live in a small town, the parish school is pretty much the only private school in town, so anyone that opts out of the public school system sends their children to our parish school. I do worry that it is leading to a watering down of Catholic values.
Joy said…
My son just started Kindergarten at our parish school. And I think we're fortunate that our school and the parish work closely together. I believe the school prioritizes admission of children from parish families.
Stacey said…
I actually think that most of your post is correct, and unfortunately true for so many dioceses.
I only want to point out another perspective on what you stated about the Catholic schools not having a place because the community does not exist any longer.
I think, perhaps, that you have missed a crucial point here: can it not be true that the Catholic schools are needed more now than ever BECAUSE of the lack of parental catechesis and community support? I think, though, that if my proposal were true, the Catholic schools would need to be changed dramatically to more accurately represent the faith and more fairly integrate the parish life.
Just a thought. Coming from a very very Catholic city, I would hate for our schools to be done away with because I see the vital role they play in building a community.
Catholic Mom said…
Okay, let me clarify something. I am really not advocating the abolishment of Catholic schools. I am suggesting we rethink our model for educating Catholic kids. The Church's first priority is to educate children in the Faith. I love the concept that the academic experience is fully integrated with the spiritual experience in a Catholic school. The value of my own Catholic school education was that it intertwined my Catholicism in every aspect of my life.

The reality is most Catholic kids are not in a Catholic school. It is very wrong for the diocese/parish to treat these children as second-class Catholics and treat their Catholic education as an after thought. When the parish school makes the CCD program feel like unwanted guests, the kids and their parents get the message--"the parish really doesn't value me".

What I am suggesting is that we get rid of the assumption that a parish should have an attached school and start over asking the question where should our limited catechetical dollars be spent.

Maybe an attached school is the best answer. However, this decision needs to be made after careful, objective consideration and not be based on an emotional attachment to the idea of Catholic schools.

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