October 20, 2005
In the United States, there are 7,799 Catholic schools: 6,574 elementary; 1,225 secondary. Last year 37 new schools opened. 2,588 schools have a waiting list for admission. The total student enrollment in Catholic educational programs at all levels - schools, religious education programs, colleges and universities and seminaries numbers 7.6 million students. Catholic education is no mean undertaking.
But the resources are dwindling to support the number of schools we have. Demographics change. People leave the cities. Newcomers may not have the same economic resources to send their children to Catholic school. And, in some instances, neighborhoods once Catholic are no longer so. Forty years ago, Catholic education was twice the size it is today -- twice as many schools, twice as many students,
Every day the newspapers report the closing of Catholic schools. Our neighboring dioceses have been making some significant changes. The Brooklyn, New York Diocese is closing 22 schools. The Diocese of Trenton is ending 150 years of Catholic schools in Trenton. The last two remaining schools in the city will be merged into a new institution to be located in neighboring Hamilton, New Jersey. In the Newark Archdiocese, two schools are closing in the city and nine will be merged to form four regional schools to serve Newark, Union City, Jersey City and Fort Lee.
Catholic school closings have become a fact of life. But parents want schools to remain open. They welcome the high academic standards and safe environment. They want a value-based education where religion is taught. They are pleased with the results of Catholic education. Catholic secondary schools enjoy a 99% graduation rate. And 97% go to college.
The death of the Catholic school would be a tragic loss to the individual and to society. Catholic schools set out to be a school where the individual can be formed. "The person of each individual human being, in his or her material and spiritual needs, is at the heart of Christ's teaching: this is why the promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school" (John Paul II,
Address to the National Meeting of the Catholic School in Italy, "L'Osservatore Romano", 24 November 1991, p. 4). The Church engages in the apostolate of Catholic education in fulfillment of the Lord’s mandate “to teach all nations” (Mt 28:19). The Catholic school helps the young grow into mature, intelligent and faithful disciples of Jesus.
This country began heavily influenced by Protestantism. Despite initial prejudices against Catholics, the influence of religion and ethical values in education was a common interest that served to unite us. Society today has experienced great cultural changes. Moral values are not only disputed, but also relativized. And family life has been weakened. In a society that is staunchly secular, Catholic schools fulfill a public role. Their presence guarantees cultural and educational pluralism and, above all, the freedom and right of families to see that their children receive the sort of education they wish for them (cf Holy See,
Charter of Rights of the Family, art. 5). Fourteen percent of the students in our schools come from non-Catholic families who recognize the value of the Catholic school. At a time when state run schools, i.e. public schools, are not neutral to our moral values, the survival of the Catholic school is all the more necessary.
In the face of the secularism and materialism that characterizes our society, Catholic education engages in a work of connecting ideas and wisdom, knowledge and values. In a time when so many long for a sense of community and yet experience an increased trend for individualism, the Catholic school stands as a witness to the possibility of creating true community. The work of the Catholic school is intimately bound with the mission of the Church. The school is not the only place Catholic education takes place, but it is a privileged place. For, through the work of dedicated educators, the Church contributes to the good of society by forming individuals who are academically, socially and morally prepared to work for the common good.
In our pluralistic society, the Catholic school, by its institutional presence, announces that faith provides the answer to the enormous problems that plague us today. Catholic schools remain worth every sacrifice as a place of integral education of the human person through a clear educational project of which Christ is the foundation (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education,
The Catholic School, March 19th, 1977 n. 34).
In June of this year, the U.S. Bishops released a very supportive document on Catholic school education which challenges the entire Catholic community to support the ministry of Catholic school education. In the document,
Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, the bishops affirm the excellence and apostolic value of Catholic education. “Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community – bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity – to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible, and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class...”