“The worst thing you can do is send your kids to a Catholic school if you want them to retain their faith.”

Those are the attention-getting words of the founder of Domino’s Pizza and Ave Maria, Tom Monaghan.

Here’s more:

Around the time he sold Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers about 20 years ago, Tom Monaghan stopped doing most interviews. He devoted himself to Catholic education, most prominently by founding Ave Maria University, now based near Naples, Fla., where he spends much of his time these days raising money for the school.

But in a rare local appearance Friday morning at the Fairlane Club in Dearborn, Monaghan, who just turned 75, showed he still has a knack for making the sort of comments that made him swear off doing interviews two decades ago.

Known as a devout Roman Catholic who attends daily mass, Monaghan told an audience of non-profit fund raisers, “If it wasn’t for my faith I’d make Hugh Hefner look like a piker.”

And while acknowledging that he was speaking to a mixed audience, he freely criticized brands of Catholic religious practice that are theologically looser than his own strict faith, particularly in Catholic schools and universities today: “The worst thing you can do is send your kids to a Catholic school if you want them to retain their faith.”

If off-putting to some listeners, Monaghan also had people lining up after his talk for him to autograph their copies of his 1986 autobiography “Pizza Tiger,” which his staff gave out to the audience at the start of the breakfast meeting.

The event that drew Monaghan was the annual meeting of the Planned Giving Roundtable of Southeast Michigan, a professional association of people who raise money for the likes of universities, foundations and charities.

“I don’t think anybody’s thought more about how to invest their charitable dollars than I have,” he told the audience. “I never found anybody that came up with a better idea than helping people get to heaven.”

Speaking of raising money to further Catholic education at Ave Maria, he said, “It’s not a short-term investment. It’s a very, very, very long-term investment. It’s eternity.”

There were lighter moments, too, as when he drew laughter by saying, “I wanted to be a priest from the time I was in the second grade, until I sat behind Lois in the seventh grade.”

Read the rest.


  1. Catherine says:

    That is a very unfair comment, IMHO.

  2. Kathy Schiffer says:

    Catherine: It was a blunt comment, which is Tom Monaghan’s way. And he has done much to change the culture, supporting education at all levels: preschool, elementary, high school, college, and Ave Maria Law.

    Full disclosure: I worked for Tom for seven years. He is often blunt, unyielding in his faith, totally committed to his cause. And he has done more to advance the cause of faith, with his financial and other resources, than the rest of us could hope to do in a lifetime. Since no one is perfect, I’d suggest we appreciate his great gifts to the Church, and cut him some slack.

  3. Vincent Braun says:


    While I can appreciate your loyalty to him, his comment with little to no explanation is very unfair and “cutting him slack” for his good work does not wipe away an uncalled for remark.

    Catholic schools are doing exceptional work with our kids in a world that wants to see nothing less than the destruction of the Church.

  4. Cutting slack sounds too accommodationist, to borrow a popular phrase. Mr Monaghan should be engaged on his comments. I’m sure he’s tough enough to take a few hits on this one.

    The best thing parents can do is bring their kids to Mass every Sunday and live their faith without compromise as good examples. If Catholic school helps that, all the better. But it’s not essential.

  5. When I heard him speak, he said it differently. Paraphrasing, he said something like this, which came from Father John Hardon some years ago: It is better to send your children to a public school than to send them to a “bad” Catholic school, where they will be at best confused, and at worst, stripped of any knowledge of their Catholic faith.

    His intention was to point out that for us to think that our children will keep their Faith just because they go to Saint XYZ Catholic School is somewhat dangerous. Our choice of schools is very important, and we have to keep in mind that parents are the first educators of their children.

  6. My son just graduated from Ave Maria University, and became a Catholic while there. He loves his faith and and is far more knowledgable than most of the parishioners at our local parish. I say hats off to Tom Monaghan!

  7. Catherine says:

    Kathy, one of the things that disturbs me about this comment is that many people listen to Mr. Monaghan, including other Catholic donors. He could do an immense amount of damage to our already fragile system of parochial schools with this kind of remark. I live close to the Bronx, where these schools (grammar and high school) are the only hope of a decent education, with a strong moral component, for many children. I would far rather see big donors putting their money into turning young lives around through Catholic education at the grammar and high school level than see them starting a new Catholic university. I have now seen this quote popping up all over the internet, and I tremble at the effect it could have on our schools. I also see it as an insult to the fine educators, both religious and lay, who dedicate their lives to these schools, forgoing the higher salaries they could earn elsewhere.

  8. For crying out loud, this guy accomplishes more in one day that what most of us can manage to achieve in a month. Full disclosure: I never worked for him, never met him, and I don’t even eat Domino’s pizza :-)

    His comments suggest that he is a very hard-working and earthy guy. Yes, he made a very challenging comment about the quality of Catholic faith formation in some Catholic-affiliated institutions. You can choose to attack the guy … or perhaps engage him with facts and a rational argument and your own testimony. For myself, I’m keeping an open mind to what he has to say, and to anyone else who has something worthwhile to share from their own observation and experience.

  9. pagansister says:

    Like any other group of children raised in a certain faith, those that attend Catholic schools will either continue in that faith as they mature into adults and thru life and some will leave for various reasons. In the world of schools—public and private (Catholic included) one will find “good” ones and ones that are poor. Having not heard the words in context, he may have been referring to the fact that just like any thing else, some Catholic schools are quality, and some others? Not so much. Being raised in any faith doesn’t guarantee that the child will continue in it.

  10. does that comment include the schools he supports? sorry.. im not much of a blanket statement kind of person.

  11. But, is he off the mark?

    From a secular perspective, our Catholic schools can hold their own against most public schools, and in some geographic areas, are probably ahead.

    However, from a faith perspective, I really wonder if he is off the mark, considering how many of our younger Catholics, have no problem with same sex marriages, abortion, etc. Either our faith education is really bad, or those outside of the church are really good at getting their message across…or both.

  12. Monaghan’s remark about Catholic schools are: Arrogant. Dismissive. Self-serving. And bordering on Scandalizing to the faithful. Wonder if he’ll hear from any bishops or be disinvited from any Catholic speaking engagements as a result…about as likely as living past 40 on a steady diet of his pizzas…

  13. Catherine:

    Disclaimer: I have been involved in Catholic education on many different levels for my entire academic career. My entire educational background (from first grade through graduate schools) has been in Catholic institutions.

    I find his comment to be nasty, unprofessional, and uncalled for.

    He comes off to me as a man who thinks that his money speaks louder than his everyday speech. Thus, he can say whatever he want and get away with it.

    Whew! I am finished. I have fulfilled my promise to myself – only one rant per day.

  14. I think your perspective on this is going to depend very much on where you live and your local parochial schools. I live in one of the most conservative diocese in the country. We have an abundant number of priests and a thriving “Catholic” school system. I put Catholic in quotes because a disturbing number of those schools are Catholic in name only, private schools catering to the 2 child boutique families, and are far out of reach of the large Catholic families that make up a vibrant and growing homeschool community in our diocese. We are blessed to have a fabulous, faithful Catholic high school right here in our community but sadly it stands in contrast to our oldest Catholic high school in the diocese whose (non-Catholic) CEO confided to me is trying to be more “secular friendly” to the point of equalizing tuition rates for Catholics and non-Catholics to the HIGHER non-Catholic rate thereby pushing out even more Catholic families from “our” schools. As long as this trend continues the Catholic schools in my diocese will never see a cent of my money nor will they see my children.

  15. Art ND'76 says:

    Having been a student at 2 Catholic schools, I can tell you that I have my faith today in spite of both of them. The first was reactionary and spiritless – more concerned with rules blindly followed. The second was mostly concerned with what I would term a perverted vision of “social justice” as a path to fame and a reason to use government to seize the resources of people like Monaghan for “better” purposes, combined with modernistic heresy that called into question the historicity of the scriptures because that was more “interesting” and “new”, combined with this desire for “academic freedom from the Church” in order to become a “great Catholic university”.

    That was my experience. Others who attended the same schools at the very same time may well differ with my opinion. Regarding those 2 schools, my observation is that not many had an honest increase in their faith due to those schools, however I sincerely doubt you will hear that from the majority of my classmates. I say this because when I had a reversion to the Catholic faith while attending the second school, from then on, save a few other people, I may as well have been from another planet. It has been my experience that those with a genuine Christian faith (Catholic or Protestant) understand the longings and issues of others on that same path. Sadly, the few that understood (and shockingly, the few priests who understood), indicated to me how few at that school were increasing their faith in Catholic Christianity. Their faith may have been increasing, but it appeared to be in something else.

    So I get Monaghan’s statement. I also have similar desires, but have not been as blessed – likely because God has more work to do for this sinner.

  16. Catholic school not essential? Hardly. It is part of establishing a Catholic culture.

  17. No, it’s not essential. It’s a modern development, just a few centuries old. That’s not to say that novelty isn’t good for the Church–far from it. As long as Catholic schools support the family and the parish–more basic units of the pastoral Church, I’m all for them. And many do.

  18. Catherine says:

    Our parochial school, which is not located in a poor area by any measure, gives a discount for families sending several children to the school. The tuitions around here are very, very reasonable, and far below that charged by the other private schools. There is also a fund that provides scholarship aid to poor children who attend schools in this diocese, and we contribute to it. I’ve never heard the phrase “boutique families” before, and cannot say that it is to my taste. There are all kinds of reasons why couples might have only one or two children. I say this as an only child (adopted) who has only two children (also adopted).

  19. He’s right. He’s not the first to be right.

  20. Catherine says:

    Only one rant a day — HMS, you are my new role model! I doubt I can live up to your example, however.

  21. Catherine, I can certainly understand your distaste of the term. However it is accurate in this case as the families I speak of openly contracept and have no problem sharing how they’d “hate to give up their lifestyle to raise a bunch of kids”. I am extremely sensitive to those Catholics who have small families and have remained faithful to the Church’s teachings on life. Our schools also give multiple child discounts, unfortunately they only apply at one school so if you have a child or two in HS and a couple in ES you only get a 2 child discount at each school, not an overall 4 child discount. So in our local parish that would be about $18,000 for the 2 in HS and $8,700 for the 2 in ES, way out of reach for most families with 4 children even with scholarships.

  22. Mary Russell says:

    I share Monaghan’s skepticism. True story: when I was in med school in a Southern city, the only private grade school was a Catholic parish school, which (this being the South) was much better than its public school counterparts. Many of my profs sent their kids to this school, most of whom were not Catholic. As one of the deans of my school said to me, “We like it because it’s just not that Catholic.”
    I have two young children at home, and I have much more faith in our local Protestant K-12 school-where children are required to learn a Bible verse every day and where the Christian faith is taken very seriously- than in the catchesis done at the nearest Catholic school.

  23. MarieLouise says:

    Catherine, I’m afraid that based on my experience working in a Catholic school, it is both fair and correct.

  24. Francis P says:

    Not surprisingly, a comment such as this will bring the hackles of the Catholic Education establishment, where status quo is the only acceptable norm and all criticism is squashed.

    Instead of judging such a comment (which is obviously hyperbole to make an overall point) based on emotional feelings towards Catholic schools, or one’s own personal work with a particular school, we should judge it based on FACTS.

    The fact is that only 17 million U.S. Catholics attend Mass each week out of 96 million people who have been Catholic at some point in their lives. That means less than 18% of Catholics actually practice their faith. Furthermore, one study showed that 60% of cradle Catholics have attended Catholic schools for at least 4 years. If Catholic schools were doing so great at helping kids retain the Faith, shouldn’t that 18% number be a little higher?

    Yes, there are other factors involved in a child losing their Faith (parents being the greatest factor), but remember: the parents today doing such a poor job raising their children in the Faith also attended Catholic schools in the past 40 years!

    The definition of insanity is to keep doing something after it has proven to not be successful. It seems to me that many Catholic educators today fall into that definition, whistling that all is well while millions lose their faith. When will there be the radical overhaul of Catholic education that is needed, instead of patting ourselves on the back for no reason?

  25. Catherine says:

    MarieLouise, can you please elaborate? Are you working in a Catholic school at present, and if so, is it a grammar school or a high school?

  26. In my experience (I am a product of Catholic schools, grade school through college and have three kids in Catholic schools now with the empty checkbook and IRA to prove it)…Catholic schools do an excellent job of maintaining a Catholic identity and providing strong religion education.

    HOWEVER…if Catholic formation is not a priority in the home, it doesn’t matter how hard the schools are working to provide it. I have seen countless instances of families who choose the Catholic school as a private school or prep school alternative to weaker public schools. Many Catholic parents may even think they are doing their duty to provide formation simply by sending their kids there while not “walking the talk” at home. My daughters attend an expensive Catholic high school that does an outstanding job of religious education while coping with plenty of privileged, outspoken students who are swept along with the cultural tide and constantly challenge the religious education they receive in school.

    Regarding Tom Monahan…some may find his candor and blunt talk refreshing. I don’t. I think these kind of sweeping generalizations make it more difficult for those of us who are investing in Catholic education and working hard to keep the schools going.

    Dominos IS serving gluten-free pizza now, so I’ll give him props for that.

  27. Todd, you suggestion about Mass also will fail a good percentage of the time. Yes they are receiving a valid and licit sacrament, however the quality of the sermon will vary from parish to parish, depending if the pastors are traditionally minded or they lean left and love being liberal, including with the liturgy. Some, even around the world, will stoop low like hanging a poodle around their neck and during the homlily in Germany having a stupid bunny in costume come out. And the majority of priests won’t even touch vital teaching, like what is in the Catechism, the obligation to Sunday Mass, Sin, Reconciliation, and major social justice issues like abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and GASP! pornography and masturbation. Now before you go all flinging ape-feces at me, ask yourself this question: Has your pastor or parish done any of the above in the number of weeks/months/years you’ve been at the parish?

  28. My sister teaches at her alma mater — a socially prestigious Catholic girl’s school (preschool – 12) that’s had a reputation for liberalism since my great-great grandmother’s day. At a recent faculty conference upon hearing the headmaster lament to an administration colleague that the Archdiocese has mandated documented compliance with Ex corde Ecclesiae, she remarked casually that she’d have no qualms in conscience about certifying her compliance. So much for being a team player: the dirty looks she earned from the headmaster and others have caused her to fear for her job.

  29. Not a surprising comment. First the conservatives are all for joining with the Vatican in bashing the nuns, now they are also going after their schools.

  30. Peter’s on to our plan to turn Catholic schools into pizza restaurants, and to force liberal sisters into waitress uniforms. Curses!

  31. Good idea, you’ll live longer. I have to bite my figurative tongue and just stay off this addictive site, where I am automatically drawn to the most provocative subjects. I start running my mouth and there goes a big part of my peace from my daily Eucharist for the rest of the day!

  32. Bishop Sheen decades ago said, “If you want your children to fight for their faith, send them to public school. If you want them to lose their faith, send them to Catholic school.”

    Catholic Schools by and large become more secular every year. Do parents really know what their children are being taught in Catholic schools? Most do not. But many parents are not living their Catholic faith and this is also a major problem. The simple fact that many parents voted for the most pro abortion president in history and that some will be foolish enough to do it again despite the outright attack on the Church is proof enough that they care little about their childrens Catholic faith.

  33. I went to Catholic Jr High and High School in the 80′s, a long time ago granted. Between Sister I-Have-Issues and Father Groovy, very little other than the crucifix in the classrooms was Catholic.

    Our current parish, while not liberal, is hardly orthodox. The associated Catholic school is known to be quite good but knowing our parish, I don’t quite “trust” it. While the cost is not exorbitant, with three children, the constant nickle-and-diming (can’t kids just go to school and not have to constantly hock candy and fund raise) and volunteer hours (both my wife and I work) it’s just not practical. We’re fortunate to live in fairly conservative area with excellent public schools at which our kids by all appearances are getting a solid education.

    However, like others mentioned, the home is where the bedrock of a child’s faith-life emanates. A great Catholic school with luke-warm “Christmas & Easter” parents isn’t likely to result in a practicing adult once the child is grown.

  34. Actually, I have more faith in the Mass as an experience of God’s grace totally independent of the human quality of the celebration. As Alicia suggests, it’s about establishing and supporting a Catholic culture, not an academic/rational/Enlightenment approach to the teachings of the Church.

    Yes, attending Mass and giving good example will fail some of the time. But the NCEA actually did a study about 15 years ago, and they found that among single factors, that family Mass attendance harmonized higher than anything else for young adult identification as Catholics–even more than Catholic schools.

    And as for the ape-excrement factor, it’s more about how the parishioners have lived the life of faith–not what’s been preached.

  35. Catherine says:

    I’m trying to get my mind around the idea of how one can “openly contracept”, to be honest! Sounds quite scandalous.

  36. Catherine says:

    I have just tried to find a citation for the Fulton Sheen quote, and all I can find are articles claiming he said this, but no actual citation. I did find this speech he gave, in which he argued for taxpayer funding for religious schools, including Catholic schools: http://www.fultonsheen.com/Fulton-Sheen-articles/The-Christian-Order-and-Education.cfm?artid=8. My guess is that he was actually a fan of parochial schools. At the time he was active, no one would have said that the Catholic schools were not teaching the Faith.

  37. I believe the Spiritus Sanctus Academies administered by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are located on Dominos Farms land near Ann Arbor. This order has expanded from..what? 4 sisters to over 100 in about 15 years!!!!! I think I’ll cut him LOTS of slack…I would give my right arm for these Dominicans to come teach in the Catholic schools in my diocese!!!!

  38. As the oldest of 6 sons and a former seminarian, MY experinece has been that many of my grade, high school and college classmates left the Church despite their fine Catholic educations NOT from anything in their Catholic educational experiences, but because at some point they just decided that they didn’t believe in Catholicism anymore. THAT is the issue that parents really face today. Unlike in my day, 1958-1970, children these days WILL make up their minds despite what they may be taught. WE were too frightened not to do what we were told and in our little Catholic ghetto, we looked down our noses at the kids who either were forced out of Catholcic schools OR had to leave because of lack of funds. We KNEW they were less than us. For us, it was WHICH school we were going to after grade school. The tonier and more Catholic, the better. I made it into the minor seminary and was considered to have “made it”.
    My wife just finished her 16th year as a DRE at one of the wealthiest parishes in our diocese and she was shocked to find a couple of her students in her confirmation class who at the end of decided NOT to be confirmed. Their parents were ok with that. As one of my brothers, who left the Church, said, “I didn’t choose to be Catholic. Mom and dad MADE me Catholic. Nobody ever asked me if believed any of it and when I got old enough to leave home, I quit and I’m not coming back.” THAT is what we face today. Pew Research recently reported that for every person who joins the Catholic church these days, 4 leave. We need to ask our selves why and not just write them off as misguided.

  39. pagansister says:

    No matter what children are taught faith wise, hopefully they will make up their own minds as to whether they actually believe the teachings or not, thus deciding whether to stay with it or leave for either another faith or no faith at all. IMO one should always question—-not just blindly follow what is being told to them. Children as well. Questions will either strengthen their beliefs or cause them to continue to seek “truth”.

  40. ron chandonia says:

    This is a very helpful comment. Having sent one son to Georgetown, I can testify that not every place that has the label ‘Catholic’ on it furthers young people on their faith journey. But I also know what a mistake it is to place primary responsibility on the school. Do our young people find the faith of their elders inspirational? If it consists primarily in defending the rights of the privileged and bad-mouthing those who think otherwise, they really ought to be running away as fast as they can go.

  41. Midwestlady says:

    Yes, same here.

  42. Midwestlady says:

    Todd, not exactly true. Before the American custom of universal free education, not all children attended school anywhere. But a portion of the children–those who could afford it–have been educated in Church schools and monasteries for more than a thousand years now. In fact, before there were secular schools in Europe, there were Catholic ones.

    Now, I’m not sure the Catholic schools in the US are doing much for the Catholic faith. Many of them aren’t very good when it comes to teaching the faith, although they tend to be pretty good prep schools.

  43. Midwestlady says:

    Yes, a great many Catholics tend to shove off all Catholic education on the schools, while the schools are shoving it off on the parents, and guess who doesn’t get a Catholic education as a result? That’s what really goes on.

  44. Midwestlady says:

    Pagansister: “Being raised in any faith doesn’t guarantee that the child will continue in it.”

    100% true.

    The problem is that although, according the research, Catholics have a pretty decent retention rate compared to other religious groups, it’s still only on the order of 65-70%. And despite the big hoopla over converts at Easter, converts have ended up being only about 7% of the total population of the Church, because they often leave after a few years. If it weren’t for the migration of Hispanics into the country, we’d be in far worse shape than we are now. In areas of the country where there aren’t so many Hispanics, you can see the population crash. It’s pretty scary.

  45. Midwestlady says:

    It’s both.

  46. Midwestlady says:

    He’s being honest about what he thinks. That’s a good thing.

  47. Midwestlady says:

    Francis P.
    This is a good comment.

  48. Midwestlady says:

    Yes, this is true too. We can no longer rely on breeding Catholics and then trying to MAKE them stay. We actually have to evangelize and to do that, we’re going to have to like our faith, know our faith and live our faith.

    And even then, there are always going to be some people who are going to up and leave because they want to, and that’s all there is to it. We’re going to have to deal with it.

    The second most populous religious group in the US today is Ex-Catholics. 1 in 10 people in the USA has been Catholic at one point in their lives and left. We can no longer force or scare people into sticking around. That’s a thing of the past.

  49. Midwestlady says:

    Ron, you are correct. Many, many Catholics don’t know anything about the history of the Church because we haven’t been teaching it. They don’t know Scripture. They don’t know a lot of things they need in order to stay.
    Many people think the Church is only all about rules and politics and fighting. That’s all they’ve ever heard.

  50. Midwestlady says:

    Catherine, I can’t find a real attribution for that quote either–proof that Bp. Sheen ever really said it–although the quote itself is all over the internet.

  51. Midwestlady says:

    Darn. Just when we were trying to line up a roller skate company and figure out how to lasso them into fitting all those sisters so they could wait cars in style.

  52. Midwestlady says:

    Individually yes. Group-wise no. The statistics tell the tale, Catherine. Catholic statistics on birth control and abortion are very, very similar to secular statistics on birth control and abortion. We talk a good game but that’s really all there is to it out in the pews.

    That’s why we’ve been targeted politically at just these places. It’s very obvious that these topics are very, very weak points in Catholic practice and understanding.

  53. Midwestlady says:

    Pew Report: “Among people who were raised Catholic, both former Catholics and those who have remained Catholic report similar levels of childhood attendance at religious education classes and Catholic youth group participation.”

  54. Midwestlady says:

    I’ve put the Pew Report’s conclusion about Catholic school attendance up higher in the thread, Todd, because it fit there better. About mass attendance:
    “At least three-quarters of people raised Catholic say they attended Mass at least once a week as children, including those who later left the Catholic Church.”

    Since many Catholics now leave as teenagers (48% before age 18), you can’t really use those statistics to claim anything, especially because there was so much change in the years mostly covered by this survey in the USA. So it’s kind of tough to claim that mass attendance among youngsters who started out okay makes any difference at all to whether people stick around as adults.

    Of course mass attendance as a child is better than no mass attendance as a child, and that group, on average, probably dropped off even more precipitously as adults, as a practical matter.

  55. Catherine says:

    Just got home from a dinner at which Cardinal Dolan was honored for his support of the Catholic schools in our Archdiocese, and at which he spoke eloquently in favor of parochial schools! I rest my case.

  56. Midwestlady says:

    There have been surveys, good mathematically sound surveys, that have described exactly why people leave the Catholic Church. The reasons are well-known for anyone who really wants to know what they are. And they have absolutely nothing to do with catholic schools or mass attendance as a child. Here are the reasons:
    1. just gradually drifted away; 71% of ex-Catholics say this.
    2. stopped believing the teachings; 65% of ex-Catholics say this.
    3. spiritual needs not being met; 43% of ex-Catholics say this.
    (NB: the numbers don’t add up to 100% because many ex-Catholics cite more than 1 of these reasons.)

  57. Midwestlady says:

    BTW, when I say that catholic schools and childhood mass attendance have nothing to do with the real reasons people leave the church, I mean that they don’t seem to hurt, but they also don’t seem to help. Research shows that both of them actually appear to be irrelevant to whether person leaves the church later in life or not.

    I think we’re clutching at straws here. We need a new method. Catholic schools aren’t doing the job for us.

  58. My only experience with Catholic schools is sending our oldest to the local Catholic High School for her freshman year. I was disappointed and felt I didn’t get our money’s worth. While the administration attempted, I think, to make an honest go of creating a Catholic environment, my daughter said the students were not much interested, which I took as a reflection of their parents’ priorities.

    There are a number of reasons why people leave or stay in the Catholic Church, or any faith tradition. Some of the research done on this question is tainted, I think, by the fact that what the researchers consider a “Catholic” is pretty much anybody who self-identifies as such. For instance, while the divorce rate among “Catholics” is right up there with the rest of the country, the divorce rate among Catholics who practice the Church’s teaching on contraception is barely a blip on the screen. An interesting study from Europe some twenty years ago concluded that the factor correlating most closely with children who went to church continuing to go to church as adults was: did their father go to church? If Dad went to church, it was much more likely that the child would continue to go as an adult, moreso than any other factor.

    There is no secret to evangelizing our young: it starts at home. It has been so throughout every century of the Church. If the parents are serious about living the faith, and serious about passing the faith on to their children, there is nothing else that comes even close to working as well. Is it a guarantee? Of course not. There are no guarantees. But, the fact that there are no guarantees does not absolve us of our responsibility to give it the best shot we can.

  59. Fiergenholt says:

    Lot’s of GOOD comments here. Some observations:

    –I grew up in a very bigoted area of the Midwest. The local public high school — where my dad had attended many years before — reflected that local small-town population: it was heavily Masonic. You were socially nobody at that public school unless your father was a member of the local Lodge, you mom was a member of the local “Eastern Star” unit, and you were an active member or either DeMolay or the Rainbow Girls. My dad told me it was “off-limits” and that I had a choice of the high-school residential seminary in a distant city or a strongly academic/college-prep Catholic high school in a closer city.

    –When my own kids were in school age; the town we lived in– almost 160 miles away– was 100% different. The public school system and its students had none of that passionate anti-Catholic bigotry I saw when I was growing up. In fact, during most of that time, three of the four Vice-Principals of that large (1,200+ in Grades 10-12) public high school were active in their own Catholic parishes. It said something to the Catholic children who went to that public high school when they saw their own Vice Principal for Students (Dean of Discipline) attend mass every Sunday.

    –There was a local Catholic high school and while it did identify itself as Catholic, the religious atmosphere was subordinated by its “sports” tradition. From 1976 until 2010 or so, the decline in enrollment here was slow but steady (from 400+ to about 280 today). A LOT of parents and a LOT of potential students were turned-off by that whole “sports academy” mind-set. Slowly the Hispanic community in town started growing — almost 100% Catholic — and yet they stayed away from the Catholic high school. Part of it was cost, part of it was the social stratification that was also there, and yes — part of it was economic but some of it certainly was to get away from that “sports” mentality.

    –By 1990, would you believe, we started seeing something in our area we had NEVER seen before. Catholic parents locally were “home-schooling.”

    On the face of it, I see what Monaghan is saying. What impresses me more is that — from 1978 until 1992 — there were seven men ordained as married Catholic deacons in our town — four of which had children still living at home. Of their 25 children (yup! average six each) only five graduated from that “Catholic” high school. I know the families involved here and I do not blame them one bit.

  60. Catherine says:

    But youth group participation and lifelong education in Catholic schools are two completely different things. At the schools I attended, and the one my children attend now, one is immersed in the Catholic way of looking at the world all day long.

  61. Catherine says:

    Socially prestigious schools are quite different from the average parish school, in my observation.

  62. To be clear, my anonymous friend, the study and I cited *family* Mass attendance. I note in your post above you cite individual attendance by the child. Neither of my aprents were Catholic, so my individual experience was just that: I usually went to Mass with my siblings without our parents. And later in high school I went on my own.

    The study I read, acknowledged a correlation: family Mass attendance with young adult Mass attendance and a basic Catholic identity between the ages of 18 and 25. Correlation is not causation. I suspect that families that commit to going to Mass weekly have other aspects in their life that reinforce the faith. Some of those families send theier kids to Catholic schools, but not all.

    The study found no significant correlation between Catholic identity (going to Mass and being able to articulate the basics of one’s faith) and Catholic school attendance. In fact, among teens aged 14 who did not attend church regularly, there was no discernible difference between those who went to Catholic school, those who attended RE classes, and those who didn’t have any kind of religious instruction.

    A pastor of mine once told the school parents if they wanted to do just one thing to ensure the best chance of their kids growing up Catholic, it was to take them to Mass every Sunday.

    My peers were bailing on the Church in great numbers in the 70′s. The parents, by and large, just weren’t holding it together.

  63. Catherine says:

    I found one version of it that has him warning people not to send their children to Catholic colleges, and that is dated 1972. That makes sense. It makes no sense that he would tell people not to send their children to Catholic grade schools and high schools. On the other hand, maybe the quote is really from Martin Sheen. (Joke.)

  64. Catherine says:

    PS Before someone tells me, I am aware that Martin Sheen chose his stage name as an homage to Fulton Sheen.

  65. The Church teaches that what helps most is the lived example of parents rubbing off on one’s children. Mass attendance isn’t a magical thing that creates invisible ties. But children seeing mom and dad go to Mass every single weekend–when they don’t feel well, when they’re busy and stressed out, when it rains, and when it inconveniences the weekend schedule–creates a moral impression on a child.

    I can tell my teenage daughter doesn’t always like going to Mass. But she attends with us without complaint. And the other week when she was home sick, she asked me to bring the Eucharist, as I do when her mom is sick and can’t attend Mass.

    I don’t think we need a new method. We need adult faith formation. We need people who will give an inspiring witness to the faith in their daily lives. Stuffing heads with knowledge, or developing (however admirable) school cultures does not necessarily further the Gospel.

  66. His comments are painting with a broad brush. I think that there are some truely great Catholic colleges/universities, however, there are also a number of them that I won’t allow my kids to even consider.

  67. IntoTheWest says:

    “Openly contracept”….? Good heavens! What does that look like?

    I would think that anyone who claims to be Catholic yet publicly judges, categorizes and condemns others based on the number of children they do or do not have didn’t have much of a Catholic education themselves.

  68. IntoTheWest says:

    So how many children do YOU have, midwestlady…?

  69. Having been on the board of directors of a Catholic School in a small city we began to see issues with “catholic teaching” when the parish and then the diocese started to cut back support and “forced” the school to make a go of it with tuition dollars. In order to keep the school open more and more non-catholic families sent their children to the school – it had an excellent academic reputation. These same parents who wanted the academics were not so keen on the faith. The school had to make a choice – stay open and find ways to teach the faith that were not in the faces of non-catholics or close.
    If we want catholics to know the faith the parishes and dioceses have to support the schools without reservation. Failing todo so and telling the schools to make do or to find other funds leads to decisions being made that are not in the best interests of the faith or the students.

  70. Mr. Monaghan is a wealthy man but that does not make him an expert on every subject. The restaurant sounds a little wierd. Getting quanset huts passed zoning boards sounds like a challenge, but part of the reason he built his conservative Catholic college in Florida rather than Michigan was because of a dispute with a zoning board. I guess if you are rich enough, you can do it your way.

  71. pagansister says:

    IMO, it isn’t “Arrogant. Dismissive, or Self-Serving, or even bordering on Scandalizing to the faithful ” AMMurphy. The man is just giving his opinion—which he is entitled to do. There is nothing wrong with honesty.

  72. pagansister says:

    Midwestlady, over the years I have noticed that many Catholic churches now have Mass in both English and then another in Spanish. Yes, the Hispanic population in this country, as proven by the last US Census, has increased tremendously. IMO this has most certainly increased the Catholic membership in many parts of the country. I moved from the Northeast last October and there were many Hispanics in the city I left—but even with that many Catholic schools closed for lack of students, and some Catholic churches had to close and join another. Of course I moved to another part of the country with a large Hispanic population.

  73. They openly discuss their methods of contraception. They openly discuss their husband’s vasectomies. In the Church parking lot. While waiting to pick their children up from Catholic school. There is no need to “judge” when the information flows unbidden. It’s not judging to simply report what is right in front of you in the carpool line.

  74. Thank you Cradles for giving me incentive to either homeschool or not join the Body of Christ on Earth for fear of the faith of the (God Willing) children…

  75. Catherine-I completely understand where you are coming from. I am the youngest of 2. My mother had tremendous difficulty conceiving. I am the mother of one daughter (adopted) and have suffered 3 miscarriages. I would love to have adopted at least one more child but at the same time we have been raising our daughter we were faced with the decline of both my parents’ health. Being the only daughter and a SAHM much of the responsibility towards my parents fell on me, leaving little time or energy for my own child.
    Our daughter is now in 4th grade at our parish school. We are in the midst of merging with a neighboring school as part of a reorganization of the parochial schools in our archdiocese. I have also taught in a few of the elementary schools in our archdiocese. I have to say I resent the mindset that is so often prevalent among some Catholics who feel that since there are mostly lay teachers in the schools now the whole system has gone down the tubes. With the accounts of the abuses that were covered up in our archdiocese for decades being revealed on a daily basis here I am beyond grateful for the loving laywomen who have taught my daughter since she was in preschool.

  76. I’d like to see the statistics on the percentage of families with children in the parish school who attend Mass on Sundays and holydays vs. the percentage of families with children in the CCD/PREP/RES (whatever you call it in your diocese) programs. When I look around our church on Sundays I mostly see other families I know through our parish school. We have twice as many children now attending our RES program than our parish school. Where are those families on Sundays?! By and large the people that support our parish the most ARE the people with children in the parish school or those who have sent their now grown children to the parish school.

  77. Midwestlady says:

    One point is not data.

  78. Midwestlady says:

    Sounds about right. As you can tell from my screen name, I’m in the North Central area, we call it the Midwest. LOL. Anyway, there are a few hispanics here but not like out west. You can see the crash in the parishes. Most parishioners are seniors, and the congregation gets smaller every year.

  79. Midwestlady says:

    And there it is: it never takes long for this old chestnut to show up. In some people’s minds, it’s worse to make a moral observation, even about a fictional person, than it is to practice contraception.

  80. Midwestlady says:

    I used to teach in a Catholic high school, and attendance at mass wasn’t good even among Catholic school students. Some of them attend just enough to get the reduced rate for “parishioners.” The difference was considerable money-wise.

  81. pagansister says:

    Midwestlady: I was born in Illinois many, many years ago, but didn’t live there long as my family moved to the deep south when I was 11. Have lived up and down the east coast, but not back in the midwest.

  82. Midwestlady says:

    Depends on where in the country you are. In the upper midwest, Catholic schools are basically prep schools. They have a lot of non-Catholic students–children of foreign-born doctors and the like. This is because even though Catholic schools are completely undemanding in the religion department, they usually do very, very well in other subjects, much better than the public schools.

  83. Midwestlady says:

    People in the church may like to say that, Todd, but dragging your kids to church isn’t really what gets them to stay.

    If people were actually to take their kids along to protest against something, or to feed the poor, or to engage in sorting things for a mission, or something like that, now that might rub off. That’s a lifestyle–and that kids can get their heads around. Add mass to that, and you might have a real combination.

  84. Midwestlady says:

    You must recall why people leave the church:
    1) just drifted away, 71% (faith remote)
    2) didn’t believe teachings anymore, 65%
    3) spiritual needs not fed, 43%

    Living a joyous & generous Christian lifestyle with with your kids starts to address some of this stuff.

  85. Midwestlady says:

    Except that I know so many exceptions to what you’re saying, BobRN. I know exceptions don’t make data, but the only studies we have simply don’t bear out what you’re saying either.

    People have the freedom to decide what they want to do now. You can’t MAKE somebody stay against their will anymore. You can’t scare the stuffing out of them to seal the deal and MAKE them stay. They have to come of their own free will. That’s the deal.

  86. Midwestlady says:


    You nailed the pattern. Yes.

    Catholics have been upwardly mobile in the last 40 years. They are also often still very ashamed of their faith and their former social status. They are as likely to be found at the public school as at the Catholic school.

    A lot of the old fashioned Elks, Masonic Lodge influence etc etc is very diluted and no longer the formidable problem it used to be, even in small towns here in the Midwest.

    Catholic schools have lost their focus and become prep schools or sports schools to compete. They’re very likely to enroll the children of non-Catholic professionals, while the Catholic kids are over at the public school & doing CCD one night a week. [When I taught Catholic school, my physics class name list looked like a who's who of the lawyers, doctors, dentists and prominent business professionals in town.]

    Hispanics don’t follow the same pattern as the families before them. In fact, many of the traditional German, Italian and Polish families here don’t really understand Hispanics and ignore them completely, thinking that they should behave like us. So there are a lot of defections to Protestant Hispanic Holy Spirit churches around here because that’s where they feel more at home, that’s where their families and friends are, and that’s huge for Hispanics.

  87. Midwestlady says:

    Ah, Noe. I’m a convert. Come on in, the water’s fine. There’s nothing else like the Catholic church on this earth. I love the Church.

    Yes, you’re going to have problems getting a good education for your kids either way, whether you convert or not. That’s a given in the psycho society we live in. There are a lot of ways of dealing with it if you’re a bit creative.

  88. “If the parents are serious about living the faith, and serious about passing the faith on to their children, there is nothing else that comes even close to working as well.”

    The above is the crux of my comment on what works to keep children in the Church. It would be helpful to me if you could point out where, in the above or any other part of my comment, I said anything about making somebody stay against their will, or scaring the stuffing out of them to make them stay. As of now, I find your interpretation of my comment bizarre. Or, maybe we have different ideas of what “taking your faith seriously” means. Very different ideas, apparently. If what I’m saying is wrong, if parents, their teaching and example, have very little to do with whether or not children go to church and continue to do so as adults, than the only argument left is that the churches are filled with individual converts who all came to the faith as adults. That’s ridiculous on the surface.

    There is a great deal of research on the question of parental influence on a variety of childhood and adolescent behaviors, confirming that parents are a significant, and even the primary influence on their children even into the later teen years. A strong, positive relationship with one’s parents is a key factor in reducing incidents of alcohol and drug abuse, dropping out of school, early onset of sexual activity, criminal and other anti-social behaviors, etc… It also contributes to children doing better in school, having a sense of investment and commitment to the larger community, etc… Why would going to church be different, so that parents have little to no influence in this one area?

    Anecdotal evidence is fine, as far as it goes. But, the so many exceptions of which we are both aware cannot speak to trends, for two reasons: the numbers are too small, and we aren’t able to control for other variables that may explain behaviors. Frankly, we only think we know exceptions to this rule. In fact, unless we’re intimately involved with these families, we really can’t claim to know what’s going on in the home . The families may be less serious about the faith than they appear in public, or there may be any number of other reasons that influence the kids against the Church. Of course, there will always be those kids who simply reject the faith despite the best efforts of their saintly parents. But, in order to speak to trends, you need data on hundreds, even thousands of families.

    I write a monthly column for the Knoxville News Sentinel. One of the reasons I started the column was to encourage parents to discard the tired, false stereotype that their kids stop listening to them, and stop watching their example, after the onset of puberty. The fact is, we have great influence over our children, even our teens, in many areas of life, participation in the life of a faith community being one of those areas.

  89. Deacon Norb says:

    BobRN sez. . . .

    “Anecdotal evidence is fine, as far as it goes.”

    To be honest with you, I find the “anecdotal evidence” far more interesting and pertinent than the conclusions. How the individual souls work out their salvation “in fear and trembling” (as one well known saint put it) where “the rubber meets the road” (as more secular folks say) is far more meaningful pastorally than a lot of highly charged and largely inaccurate rhetoric.

    You middle paragraph on the role of parents is always the topic of my Baptismal Parents/God-parents classes. I do use, as a matter of choice, anecdotal stories because my audience can connect with that. One of those anecdotes that always raises a chuckle: “You haven’t lived until you have had pierogies and grits at the same meal.” I leave it to you to figure out why that statement is pastorally important.

  90. Catherine says:

    I’m not in the midwest, I’m in the northeast. We have both ultra-exclusive Catholic schools, which may or may not be “undemanding in the religion department” — I have no way of knowing — but we also have standard parochial schools, which tend to be very Catholic.

  91. Catherine says:

    Wow, I’ve spent a lot of time standing around at Catholic church and school events, and I’ve never heard anyone discuss a vasectomy!

  92. I think we’re having a communications breakdown here. “Dragging kids to church”–the term–sets parents up for failure, turning it into a war without it needing to be one. This is a weakness I see in many conservatives: to frame things in terms of obligations and demands before it really needs to get that way.

    The blame game isn’t appealing to me either. What’s more interesting is the #1 thing people can say to get someone back to church. I invite people to Mass all the time–it’s part of my ministry/job/way of life, as it were. When was the last time you invited someone to come with you to Mass?

  93. Catherine says:

    Beautifully said, zmama!

  94. Deacon Norb,

    We’re talking about two different things. You’re talking about using anecdotes to illustrate a point. I’m talking about using anecdotal evidence to decide best practice or policy. Anecdotes often help to illustrate a point. But, I don’t think anyone recommends using anecdotal evidence to decide best policy or practice.

  95. Does Ave Marie U expel students for fornication and binge drinking? My wife attended Thomas More College (NH) and U-Dallas…two supposedly faithful “Catholic” colleges. After marriage I learned the real truth about her…and as far as I can tell all she learned at those two places was fornication and binge drinking.

    I’ve met her classmates from both places. They are HORRIBLE people who blatantly flirt and otherwise are unfaithful to their marriages. Products of supposedly faithful “Catholic” colleges.

  96. Fiergenholt says:

    Re: Tim

    I would not be too harsh on Ave Maria University. They have no long tradition of scholarship to base their reputation on.

    The vast, vast bulk of historic Roman Catholic Colleges/Universities were created by religious orders who have historic roots going back to way before America was even discovered. As much as some folks like to throw stones at the Jesuits, they did start the very first Catholic University here in the US.

    Go back to your parish, identify the really quiet leaders whose faith is solid and whose reputations are clean. Then do some “fact-checking” as to what undergraduate colleges / graduate universities those folks attended. You might be surprised. You might find Chaminade or Dayton (Marianist); Notre Dame or Portland (Holy Cross Fathers); Creighton or Wheeling or Boston College (Jesuit); Villanova (Augustinian); Walsh (Christian Brothers); Quincy (Franciscan); Duquesne (Holy Spirit Fathers). You get the picture.

    As an aside, after one of our local deacons started complaining about how radical Jesuit alumni were, I quietly reminded him of six such “quiet leaders” in his parish who were Jesuit alumni. ‘Nuff said.

  97. I agree with him. Because if you send your children to Catholic school, which misunderstands the faith and delivers it improperly, they will run far far away. You are better off teaching them yourself. Also, if it is expensive, then you may not be getting families who are not there for faith. That being said, my kids go to Catholic school. It has fair ability, and that keeps things humble. Most kids are wearing re-used uniforms, and most families are on a single income with multiple children, so they are doing the best to pay what they can. Parents help a lot. This, for me, makes a huge difference and I am glad I came across this school, because our in town Catholic School stood up to it’s bad reputation when I toured it. The principal was arrogant and judgmental, even reacting with offense to my question if there was a way to volunteer to help with tuition. The reason I ran from the first school is because I want my children to see the goodness in our faith, and not run away from it from misguided individuals.

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