A good reflection on this from today’s New York Times:
Amid the grandeur and permanence of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, they marched down the aisle in pairs, the graduating seniors of Rice High School in Harlem. They were the 70th commencement class in the school’s history, the latest to bear the venerable epithet of being “Rice men.”
All those trappings of longevity, the bronze doors and marble pulpit and stained glass, were illusory. The graduation ceremony on May 27 was the last ever for Rice, which is being closed, and the event was most significant as a symbol of the continuing contraction of Roman Catholic education in the urban settings where it has been most needed.
Over the last half-century, the number of Catholic schools has fallen to 7,000 from about 13,000, and their enrollment to barely two million children from more than five million. A disproportionate share of the damage has come in big cities.
So when a landmark topples as Rice did — and as Cardinal Dougherty High School did in Philadelphia last year, and as Daniel Murphy High School did in Los Angeles two years before that — it ought to provoke more than sentimentality or tears. It ought to sound an alarm about a slow-motion crisis in American education.