Utah Catholic schools thriving

Photo: Chuck Wing, Deseret News

Hot on the heels of this report the other day about a Catholic school booming in Brooklyn, we have this story about a broader trend in Utah:

Christa Aquilla wanted her kids to go to a school that taught religious values and had a sense of community.

She and her husband moved to Utah from New York before they had children and were welcomed by the St. John the Baptist Catholic parish in Draper. When her oldest child reached kindergarten age, St. John the Baptist Elementary fit Aquilla’s wants.

“I love it. I love the school itself. I think the school is top-notch,” she said.

While Catholic schools in the East and Midwest are consolidating and shutting down from dropping enrollments, those in Utah and other parts of the West and South are bucking that trend and remain stable.

There are 5,500 students attending 18 Catholic schools in Utah, a number that has remained stable for about eight years, according to Sister Catherine Kamphaus, superintendent of Utah’s Catholic schools.

Although admissions have taken a hit from the surge of charter schools in the state, five Catholic schools have opened in Utah since 1999 and none have closed, Sister Kamphaus said.

“We hope we never have to close one,” she said…

…Education is one of the missions of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which means all parishes donate a portion of their revenues toward education, even parishes without Catholic schools nearby.

Even with some money from the diocese, all Catholic schools are responsible for the bulk of their costs. Utah’s Catholic schools are primarily funded through tuition and fundraising.

Some of Utah’s Catholic schools are struggling to remain fully occupied, she said, especially those that only serve one parish. This wasn’t the case 25 years ago when most of the schools were filled to capacity with people on waiting lists.

The schools are selective in who can be admitted and tend to have an academic focus; in recent years, local schools have begun admitting those with low to moderate learning disabilities, Sister Kamphaus said.

On average, 25 percent of Utah’s Catholic school students adhere to other faiths like Judaism, Buddhism, and Mormonism. Parent surveys for schools in the state show that most are drawn to the school first by the academics, second by the safe environment and third by the faith-based atmosphere, Sister Kamphaus said.


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