What a city loses when Catholic schools close

What a city loses when Catholic schools close June 4, 2011

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.

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18 responses to “What a city loses when Catholic schools close”

  1. I’m not sure it is indicative of a crisis in American education.

    It surely is a crisis in Catholic school education in America.

    Even more so it seems an indication, and the result, of the unwillingness of financially secure suburban parishes to share with their inner city Catholic brothers and sisters.

  2. The article mentions that people were urged to call the Archdiocese to protest the closing. The school is not owned or operated by the Archdiocese. It is a school owned and operated by the Christian Brothers who have declared bankruptcy. The Archdiocese has nothing to do with it.

  3. RomCath — Thanks for the additional info. That does indeed change the politics of funding for the school.

  4. Many of the Catholic schools in Providence have closed in the last 10 years. The school I taught in is still managing to stay open, partly because they are getting the students who were attending the other schools. How long that will last, who knows? It costs money to send a child to a Catholic school and many parents don’t have extra money to pay for that education. I taught in a school that is pre-school to 8th grade.

  5. The article omits quite a bit of causal detail. If it is true that in the last 50 years the number of schools has declined by half, it is equally true that the number of children per family has declined by more than half as well. Catholics (~80%) have embraced artificial contraception in the past 50 years, and have drastically reduced their numbers. It’s simply a matter of math. We no longer need as many schools, as we no longer have as many bodies to put in those schools.

    The number of churches and schools in the big cities were built to sustain a faithful immigrant population and their large families. These closings are an accurate barometric read on the numbers of faithful in the twenty-first century.

    From those numbers and the status of the faith comes the issue of vocations to priesthood and religious life, and the staffing power in the schools. People are not only NOT encouraging vocations, most are hostile toward the notion. It seems we have gotten exactly what we have bargained for.

  6. The bottom line reason that we have dramatically fewer numbers of Catholic schools is that Catholics moved. The city neighborhoods that they left behind don’t have enough Catholics to populate the school buildings that are in those city neighborhoods, while the suburban parishes that they moved in to were built without schools.

    Schools take money and commitment and a huge amount of attention from the parish. If it’s not something that the parish wants, then it’s not happening. The bleak and terrifying data is that Catholic schools in the US are the only evangelical activity that the Church conducts which have any measure of success. Adults who were catechized in CCD are indistinguishable from adults who were completely uncatechized — any who end up practicing Catholics do so in spite of the Church rather than because of her efforts.

    Just the language tells the story… Catholics talk about the “subsidy” that the parish and/or diocese “provide” for the school. Do we talk about “subsidizing” the choir when the parish buys music or pays for maintenance on the organ? Do we talk about “subsidizing” the masses when the parish pays the church light bill and buys hosts and wine and candles? No, all those things are “what we do”. It used to be — and in some places still is — that a parish school was “what we do” to a parish, too. Something few Catholics realize is that when our poverty-stricken immigrant ancestors arrived, they built the school first. Then they had masses in the school gym until they could afford to build a church, which was sometimes many years later.

  7. Gerard, lets do a little arithmetic:

    You start with 100 families averaging 8 children each. Those 800 children (400 girls and 400 boys) all go through the parish school, and then grow up and marry each other. Each family then has an average of 2 children each. Which is 800 children. So the parish school is exactly the right size!

  8. Cathy,

    We start with 100 families. Then Vatican II hits. 60% stop going to church. There are 40 families left.

    Many of their children marry outside of the faith.

    Many of their children leave the faith.

    The remainder have only two children, on average.

    That’s the reality of where the Church has come from since 1960.

  9. I don’t know if I see all of those stats in my area of the North East. Back whne I was young, (I’m 50 now) if you wanted to send you child to Catholic school, it cost, but very little. We had nuns and scholarships from your town/diocese. Not now. I had 3 children and it took a lot of scrimping to send them for 8 years, I couldn’t afford the huge jump to 11,000 each and more (2000 computer)for high school. No one I know got any help or FA, just the very needy, they would take one or two that made 30,000 or less with aid. If couples had more children, if I had 5, I couldn’t have sent them all. I went without vacations (which they on occasion regret) and any unneeded home repairs, furniture, etc. We don’t regret it, it was wonderful, but costly. Maybe in other areas, not as much.
    The same school now has merged with another, much poorer children and parents have trouble paying. There are a few 500.00 scholarships, but 2500 or more is on the parents. There are enough children in my state that want to go, not enough money for many who aren’t making a very good salary. One Catholic high school in a nearby town, seems almost like a private secular school by the demographics, which is sad.

    Again, I don’t know how it is in every state, but I have heard many parents regret having to take their children out to pay bills, save anything for college, and I have seen how their children changed in public school, and not for the better in many ways. These aren’t parents wanting Iphones and trips to Disney yearly, just parents, mainly blue collar, trying to make ends meet, avoid layoffs and not get into too much debt.

  10. Vouchers are the key in this day and age. The past is past.

    Class of 73, Murphy Catholic

    ” You want swats or detention”


  11. My heart feels sad… I used to know a lot about Rice; I was very close with someone who used to work there. It is where I fled to on 9/11, when I left my midtown office. I walked up to 124th St and Lenox Avenue and found a haven of peace on a dark day. Every now and then I would look out the window, see black plumes of smoke 13 miles to the south and wondered what would happen.

    It was a remarkable place, I knew a lot about what happened in there. Many fine young men were formed; it is a loss in many ways.

  12. #9 Deb: Yes, it is expensive now for children (at least more than one) to attend Catholic schools. The Catholic high school in the neighborhood near the elementary I was in, was raising it’s tuition each year, and the 2010 year was $12,400 a year. That’s a lot of money and that doesn’t cover field trips, special things etc. My former school is charging $3,700 a year K-8. (daycare after school is done by the hour). 5 days of preschool is more than that. The school I taught in had 1 nun who taught (she was in her 70’s and retired before I left. ) She was in the first graduating class in the school—-80 years before! Now if I understand correctly, there is a younger nun in the school, bu the rest of the teachers are not from the religious community. Sister said when she attended it was free. Teachers need to be paid (and believe me they teach in that environment NOT for the pay), building needs to be maintained, books and supplies etc. All adds up. And as Gerard mentioned—-fewer Catholic children are being born—families aren’t just having kids now that there are reliable birth control methods.
    RI is a very Catholic state—but even with that , they too have cut down on their reproduction.

  13. This is one high school near us:
    $60 (non-refundable) test fee (8th graders)
    Transfer Application Fee $75 (non-refundable)
    Tuition $15,035 per year
    Fees $250 activity/technology fee per year
    $150 fee per sport per athlete
    Deposit for 2012-2013 $750 (non-refundable) due February 11, 2012

    So if you apply and don’t get any aid, you don’t get the 750.00 back. There are also computer fees…everything is done on laptops now.

    We also have a secular private school, about 20,000, but bright Catholic students have gone there much cheaper, sometimes less than half. One very involved Catholic mom at our church, put her 3 children there, it was just economics.

    My daughter was heartbroken she couldn’t follow her best friend into high school (they had more money) but she eventually adjusted and is at a Catholic college now.

    Without more money from the archdiocese and money from graduates for scholarships and nuns teaching, it will never be affordable for many. Catholic school teachers are great, but they get paid very little and we lost 4 great ones when each of them had a son/daughter go to college, they went to public schools for more money.

  14. You are so right, Deb—public schools pay a lot more than Catholic schools. Most of the teachers I taught with were married and didn’t have to support themselves on what they were paid in the school. The single teachers had more than one job—they taught during the day and worked somewhere else after school and on the weekends to make ends meet.

  15. Yes, re the extra jobs, I saw one single teacher working at Barnes and Noble after work and an aide there also.
    Some did summer programs and tutored. It was embarrassing how low the pay was, our school was very lucky to have had such wonderful, caring and long-lasting teachers, but you can’t go into debt when the pay doesn’t increase.

  16. NO VOUCHERS!!!!!!
    PLEASE do not let the government handle our tuition money…
    If vouchers are approved….you might as well sell your soul.

    Peace to all

  17. Vouchers are a bad idea. If parents want to send their children to a private school (some are not affiliated with a religion) then they will either have to handle it or send them to public school. That is free.

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