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More thoughts on Catholic Schools

The post below has been drawing lots of readers and comments. My reason for writing it was to stimulate discussion about some basic questions concerning suburban parish Catholic schools:

1. What is their mission?
2. Whom do they serve?
3. If a school is parish supported, how does it relate to the parish as a whole?

Parents choose or don’t choose Catholic schools for a wide variety of reasons. I went to a public elementary school and junior high, but attended a Catholic high school. My children have attended private secular schools, Catholic schools, and public schools, depending on where we were living at the time. Five years ago I was sure I would put my youngest in a Catholic school when we moved to Virginia. I arrived only to find the parish school was too full and couldn’t squeeze in one more kid. Within a couple of years, the enrollment picture markedly changed and there was plenty of room. However, I did not feel it was in my child’s best interest to uproot him from a stable quality educational situation just for the sake of having him in a Catholic school. Frequent military moves made me leery of changing schools without strong justification. We need to respect each parent’s choice for the education of his child. The parish has a responsibility to serve all the children, not just the ones in the parish school.

Barb, an ardent Catholic school supporter, made the following observation about CCD in her area:

In the parishes in my neighborhood, CCD is huge, but treated as an afterthought. Many parents I know let their kids "cut" CCD if they have sports practice. CCD is 1 hour a week for 20 weeks, and fifth-graders still spend a good amount of that time on arts and crafts.

My question is “Why does the parish treat the CCD program as an afterthought?” Does the parish feel that the “good” Catholics send their children to Catholic schools so there is no point in expending a lot of energy on the public school kids? Truthfully, I would probably let my child “cut” CCD if it was an hour of busy work and artsy projects instead of an hour of real catechesis. That is why a group of us chose to home school our children for eighth grade CCD this year. What they received during the CCD class was not worth the stress it put on the family to add another scheduled after-school activity. One hour a week may be better than nothing, but a structured program woven into Catholic family life is so much better.

As I pointed out above, there are a lot of good reasons to send your child to a public school instead of a Catholic school. (See Rich Leonardi’s post and subsequent comments on choosing a public high school instead of the Catholic high school) Emotions run high on both sides of the issue. Neither the Catholic schools nor the public schools have a monopoly on either the devout or the lukewarm Catholics. A parish has to honor the school choices parents make. Doing a stellar job with the three hundred students in the parish school does not justify ignoring the four hundred students in the CCD program. The parish must provide faith formation to all its members, not just an elite few.


As one going to a Byzantine Catholic church where we only have two Divine Liturgies on Sunday, I've always been struck by the fact many RC churches have their CCD classes mid-week. We always had our classes between the 8 am & 10:30 liturgies. Would it be a huge strain to have CCD before or after the most popular Mass? If there are enough parishioners for 5 or 6 Masses on a weekend, must there only be one CCD class per grade (as opposed to two at different times that are, again, close to a Mass time)?
Catholic Mom said…
Here is the problem at our parish: Sunday Masses are schedule at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30, and noon. The parking lot is barely able to hold one Mass worth of cars so if there is any overlap, it is a parking lot nightmare. I think that is why we don't do the coffee and donuts thing after any of the Masses. We have to move 'em in and move 'em out. If I were running the show I would get rid of the 10:30 am Mass. We could use the space in between to run coffee/donuts followed by religious education for children and adults. If there is a need we could add a Sunday evening Mass.

I saw your comment at Ten Reasons. The context was considering Walnut Hills as a choice for a high school. While I live in DC, I'm from Cincinnati. I can tell you that Walnut Hills is essentially the college prep magnet school for the Cincinnati Public School system, and has been for years. As to the Catholic high schools in Cincinnati, some are better than others.

I attended McNicholas High School on the east side in the early 70s. It wasn't too bad at the time; coulda been better, coulda been worse. Looking back, I should have gone to Xavier on the west side. An all-boys school run by the Jebbies would have been better for me, and "X" was as good back then as DC's Gonzaga still is now.

I wrote of my own experience with my son in the Catholic school system last January...

Heard any good news lately?

...which pretty much sums up my attitude.

If you find a good one, more power to you. But it really comes down to the parents as primary educators of the Faith. If a Catholic school facilitates that, fine. If they don't, and a public school's limitations can be overcome, you're better off saving your money for a good Catholic college. Two years of a solid classical liberal arts curriculum, and they can go anywhere, and go far.
frival said…
David makes some good points. I think the thing to remember is that our obligation as Catholic parents is to provide a proper and full "Catholic education", meaning "education on what it is to be, and how to be, a good Catholic". It is proper to expect that a Catholic school would be an aid to that end. However that does not mean that it should be considered either requisite or sufficient.

If the particular school is not aiding in providing a more full Catholic education then it is the duty of the parent to resolve the situation, either by achieving the necessary change at the school or by putting the child in a different school (or home school) and possibly supplementing the (supposedly already ongoing) home-based Catholic education.

As for CCD ... at one point in the fairly recent past my parish used to run CCD classes for the younger kids during the 10:30 Mass. Which meant the kids went to CCD and the parents went to Mass then they all went home. That necessarily meant the kids almost never went to Mass. Thankfully that's changed now - I can't even comprehend how anyone thought that was a good idea. They've now taken out the 10:30 Mass (now that we only have one priest) and CCD is after the 9:00 Mass - a much better situation, as long as they're still all going to Mass of course.
Barb, sfo said…
"Why does the parish treat CCD as an afterthought?"
Wish I knew! The 3 parishes I am thinking of here, all in my zip code, have CCD but no schools. 2 of them have had schools that closed within the past 5 years. (My children attended both of those schools). The third parish has never had a school, and this is the one with "arts & crafts" for 10-year-olds. People I have spoken to seem to see CCD as "sacramental preparation" and if their child is not in a sacramental year, believe it's basically expendable in their family schedule. So--poor catechesis all around, I guess.
I will say that my parish is trying to improve things by changing CCD to Sunday mornings so that families can attend Mass just before or just after CCD. I'm seeing more families in the pews this fall, since this began. That's a great start!
Tony said…
That is why a group of us chose to home school our children for eighth grade CCD this year.

This is why I chose to homeschool my older daughter in CCD before her confirmation. She was bored to death, and was gently correcting her teachers on a regular basis.

My course included two term papers, and a field trip to the local Latin indult Mass in our area.

My younger daughter has a different CCD teacher. He taught her last year, and decided to follow his class to the next year up to confirmation. He's educated, inspiring and young.

My daughter chose him for her confirmation sponsor.
RAnn said…
Our parish used to have the same mass schedule as yours, plus a Sunday evening mass. When we lost our parochial vicar, the pastor decided to cut one mass Sunday morning and conducted listening sessions to put various schedules on a ballot. I suggested some variation that would leave at least 1.5 hrs between two of the masses, with the idea that the time could be used for programming. No one bought it. Our parish is trying to get adult ed going on Tuesday nights at the same time as religious ed for K-8. I told the pastor the suggested topics sounded interesting, but that I wouldn't be there since that was homework time for my high schooler, who needs help. I rather doubt they'll have many, if any, parents from the Catholic school there, and unless they offer babysitting, it won't work for religous ed parents either (and even with babysitting, I don't know that I'd want to add getting my preschooler ready for bed to the rush that follows bringing the big ones home). I pointed this out and suggested that Sunday morning might be a more convenient time, and he replied that they were thinking of trying something after the 4:00 p.m. Sat. mass. Again, not a great time for families with kids. Oh well, I tried.
Anonymous said…
If the parents would really support CCD, the parishes would make it better. If the parents would insure the kids attended CCD every time (and not just in sacramental prep years), it would be better. If the parents made CCD a priority, it would be better. If parents would teach their kids that religion is not "fun, games and arts and crafts", it would be better.

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