Fewer Catholic Schools?  Maybe That’s A Good Thing

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/08/19/fewer-catholic-schools-maybe-thats-a-good-thing/

The school year is beginning, but with fewer Catholic schools. Hundreds closed last year in the United States.

Maybe more should shut their doors, according to one popular American bishop.

Robert Barron, the media-savvy auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, acknowledges the crisis of declining enrollment in Catholic schools. But he also points out the troubling trend of schools that are becoming less Catholic, in order to blend in with the secular society.

Catholic schools “should have a distinctive profile,” Barron said during one of his recent podcasts.

“If they are one more STEM school among many, close them,” he said.

“STEM” stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. They’re good things to study. But they aren’t inherently religious.

The COVID pandemic produced a bittersweet effect on Catholic schools. It financially crippled many, as unemployed families could not afford tuition, and declining church offertories meant less support for parish schools. According to the National Catholic Education Association, about 210 schools closed last year. But COVID also allowed other Catholic schools an opportunity to shine. As many public schools closed their buildings to in-person learning, Catholic schools opened and some welcomed increased enrollment as a result – including in archdiocese of Boston schools, which saw an increase of 4,000 students between mid-July and mid-October in 2020.

Good for them.

But what is the make-up of these Catholic schools? Are they becoming more and more like their secular counterparts, save for a religion class thrown in? In other words, what is the purpose of Catholic schools?

“Evangelization,” Barron said. “To declare the lordship of Jesus. That’s an easy question to answer, in a way, because it’s what everything in the Church is about. The Church doesn’t have a mission; the church is a mission, as Paul VI told us. It is to evangelize.

“And so, that is the purpose of all Catholic institutions, including and especially Catholic schools, to declare the lordship of Jesus. Now, we do that through our education. Not just religious instruction, but all the courses have a relationship to Jesus Christ …”

Too many Catholic schools seem timid about sharing the beauty, joy, wisdom, and truth of the Catholic faith – they don’t want to offend (and lose enrollment) and, so, hide behind words like inclusion and tolerance, to justify the keeping their light under a bushel.

The teaching of the way, the truth and the life does not permeate the hallways of these schools, but is shoved aside in a religion class (too often watered down), and occasional public liturgies.

“That’s not enough,” Barron said. “It has to pervade the whole place.”

Ryan Topping, author of The Case for Catholic Education, begins his book with an intriguing theory:

“The crisis of Catholic education … is a crisis born chiefly of our lack of confidence in truth. This lack of confidence has led us to accept an uninspired and uninspiring view of the human person.

“Confidence in reason has dried up … it no longer serves … as an instrument for ultimate truths.

“Thus, instead of openness to wonder, openness to beauty, to truth, goodness, angels, eternity, the music of the spheres, the soul, and the like, the scope of reason is reduced to aims dictated largely by the economy and the imperatives of technological innovation.”

In his podcast, Barron recalled a time when he was to speak at a gathering of principals in the archdiocese of Chicago. Before his talk, he sat in the back of the auditorium, listening to the heads of these Catholic schools go through an exercise.

“They were asked to say one really good thing about their school,” Barron said. “One after another came up and talked about their science program, and their computer program, and their improvement in math, and the paving of their parking lot … not one of the principals mentioned religion or the faith or Jesus Christ.

“I got up and said, ‘I think we have a problem … we don’t know what we’re about.’ ”

Catholic schools are at a crossroads that has been decades in the making. Too many Catholic colleges no longer resemble the Catholic Church, and secondary and elementary schools are following suit.

These are times when the Church must invigorate and clarify the purpose of its schools, and how it will teach its children. This is a prime opportunity to spread the truth, and its accompanying wonder, beauty, goodness … all food for the soul.

If a Catholic school does not nourish the soul, then close the doors.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.


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