By Bob Sullivan
Parents who send their children to Catholic schools have always sacrificed. They pay for the education of twice as many children: their child, and a student in the public school system. This is aside from the volunteer hours, the meetings, the extra unexpected fees and costs, the fundraising, sports, band, chorus, cheer, dance, drama, speech, the Walk for Life, the Christmas program, classroom parties, chaperone duties, prom, the March for Life, mission trips, community service, and anything else your child tries. Every parent could be out of the house every night of the week for 10 months of the year. Don’t get me wrong – public school parents have plenty of opportunity to donate their time, talent and treasure to their child’s school, as well.
Meanwhile, Catholic parochial schools typically educate students for less than half of the national average of $12,000 per student. Tuition at Catholic schools continues to increase each year. Some Catholic schools have gone to a private school model which typically increases tuition way above that of parochial schools, and takes on an air of exclusivity and privilege. This often makes the school available to only the wealthy, many of whom are not Catholic, and such schools sometimes lose all of their Catholic identity.
This is not just a Catholic problem, it is an American problem helped along by the ideas of Horace Mann. Across the board, American Christians are quickly growing disinterested with organized religion. Many were caught up in the Evangelical movement in the past, but today, the fastest growing segment of American Christianity are those unaffiliated with any church or denomination. People have moved from a formal and traditional Christian faith, to an informal and nontraditional Christian faith, to no faith at all, and some of those are now moving to atheism.
In our zeal to pursue the created, we deny the Creator. The result is, our parish and our parish school are forgotten. The daily and weekly spiritual and family practices which support them are also forgotten. At some point, the school takes on a culture which is not fully Catholic, the parish takes on a culture of maintenance instead of mission, and the Catholic home becomes a boarding house, but without the evening meal around the dinner table.
Today, many Catholic schools are not radically different than good public schools. Some Catholic schools operate with a mentality of student athletic achievement and college readiness which overshadows the faith. The math class at some Catholic schools is identical to the math class at the public school in town. The same goes for science, art, music, and sadly even history and literature. There is a failure to teach that math, science, art, music, literature, and all the other disciplines were nurtured, fostered, and developed by Catholicism and Catholics when the rest of the world was either hostile or ambivalent to these areas of study.
A basic teaching of Catholicism is that we are called to introduce others to Christ. When we are living our life as God intends, we are lights in the darkness. In being a disciple of Christ, we challenge and inspire others, especially our own children, to turn to Christ. That is how the Church began, and in times of trouble, that is how the Church has thrived.
Our Catholic schools will live or die on this same principle. The solution to the struggles of any Catholic school is not in finances and operations. All of these are unable to solve the struggles of public schools. The real solution is simply in living our faith as Catholics and Catholic families. When we live our faith, the finances, organization, salaries and successes will come. We cannot ignore or dismiss the importance of a balanced budget, competitive salaries for qualified teachers, spiritual development for school staff, academic excellence, competent leadership, etc… We simply need to get our priorities straight.
The #1 priority is faith in Christ. Therefore, the struggle in our parishes, schools, and the diocese is really at the core of each person’s relationship with God. By getting back to the basics of our faith, we can renew our Catholic school, our parish, and our faith. This starts in the home. Parents must be the primary educators of their children in matters of faith and morals, so schools can support and enhance that education.
The basics are this: Go to Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation which does not fall on a Sunday. Go to confession regularly (so you can receive the Eucharist regularly and at least once during the Easter season). Fast and abstain as directed by the Church. Finally, support your parish financially and with your time and talent. These are the five precepts of the Church in a nutshell, and if you are not meeting these five precepts, you are undermining your child’s faith and the purpose of your child’s Catholic school.
It is the parents and the families who must change in order to begin making Catholic schools healthy once again. Only after parents and families are taking the faith seriously, will students and schools be able to fulfill their roles to the fullest.
This is not a change which will be welcome with everyone everywhere. Some schools will lose students and staff. But the end result will be the school system envisioned by the bishops who started the Catholic school system long ago. They will also begin to grow once again, providing parishes with future parishioners and your local Catholic school with new students.
It is time to get back to the basics.