The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Catholic schools shrinking, struggling

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of Catholic education in this country?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a hard look at what’s happening in its own backyard, and then surveys the landscape elsewhere:

Catholic schools around the nation are shrinking in number, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. While 24 schools opened nationwide last year, 174 closed or consolidated. Over the last decade, enrollment rates have decreased 20 percent, said Karen Ristau, president of the association.

One bright spot has been the city of St. Louis, where after 40 years of steady decline, Catholic school enrollment saw a slight increase in 2008 and maintained that gain last year.

Overall, however, Catholic school enrollment in the 11 counties under the Archdiocese of St. Louis has dropped by 11,000 in the past 10 years. Enrollment in the Belleville Diocese has dropped by 10,000.

Most parish schools must survive on their own through tuition, Sunday collections and fundraising, said Al Winklemann, associate superintendent at the archdiocese for elementary school administration. He said the archdiocese steps up when parents or the parish can’t afford to keep some schools open. Last year, the archdiocese gave $1.8 million in aid and this year that will grow to $2 million.

“It’s always been a challenge to maintain Catholic schools,” Winklemann said, adding that the cost of education has continued to rise as the economy has become more challenging. “I think all schools have felt that impact.”

But the economy is only part of the issue, said Thomas Posnanski, director of education for the Belleville Diocese.

Shrinking family sizes have caused a large enrollment drop in Catholic schools. Posnanski said he comes from a family of 12. He subsequently had five children, and his children have three kids each.

“The number of families having a smaller number of kids has had a direct impact on the number of kids enrolling,” he said. More than 60 percent of the families enrolled in schools in the Belleville Diocese have just one child, he said.

Catholics also are choosing parish schools less frequently, Ristau said.

“Catholics are not as strongly attached to the church as much as they might have been in the past,” she said. “They don’t go to Mass as much as they did 30 years ago.”

Indeed, Catholic researchers at Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report that while 24 percent of Catholics born from 1943 to 1960 attend Mass at least once a week, 17 percent of those born after 1981 attend weekly Mass.

Read on for more.

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Katherine Wegman

posted July 28, 2010 at 9:13 am

I went to Catholic School. I’m 57yrs old, and the that I grow. Was a time my Generations rebelled against everytning. Church, Government,Society, and so. WE wanted to change the world. Oh, we change it all right.
We took prayer out of schools.
Made abortion legal.
we lost God, and become Agnostic.
We need a revivel of the catholic church, that includes, Priest, nuns, family.
I came back to the church about 7 yrs ago. After many yrs. I have found it be my home. God has made me a new person. We must learn to take it back, beause we contributed to the negative and all the wrong that has happen. Come home to the chatholic church, and let us fight for what is right!!!!!!

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posted July 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

Youy know one of the things I find frustrating about being a Catholic is Catholics in one Diocese dont; ahve a clue of what is succeding in other Dioceses.
That goes from Mass attendance, to programs to bring in converts, to vocation. It goes as well as to Catholic schools. I mean what do these Bishops do at their meetings? Don’t they network?
What about The fantastic success of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Witchita has been noted in the Catholic press on a few occasions.
Their policy has been in full effect For ten years and proven a great success with the amount fo catholic schools growing. So they gave Free tutuion for everyone , great education, the concept of stewardship, more Mass attendance, and having Catholic schools available to those of limited needs. Further I ahve read that 10 percent fo the students that attend these schools are special needs!!
Yet not on Diocese in the USA as of 2009 has attempted this to duplicate this system. Why? Do these Bishops network at their annual meetings.
it is all frustrating. So in Witchita they are building Catholic schools while elsewhere they are closing. I don;t understand why after ten years the Witchita model has not been implemented in a lot of Diocese

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posted July 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

Maybe it’s for the best. If the schools aren’t teaching the faith then what good are they?

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posted July 28, 2010 at 10:11 am

We have a baptist church down the street from our parish and it has three services on a sunday morning, and services on wednesday evenings, and events for kids and families, they pack them in, and lo and behold, do it all without a school….can someone explain this to me? and this is in northest, PA to be exact

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posted July 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

I was just reading that article this morning. It’s a shame to see Epiphany close (I loved bowling there – Our Lady of the Lanes!) but it’s wonderful to see what is happening at St. Cecelia’s as the education system in St. Louis City is atrocious. Prevalent violence, under-resourced classrooms, over-extended teachers, and low education/SES households all make getting a quality education in that system almost impossible (and the city has the dropout rates to back that up).

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posted July 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

My father’s very worst threat when I was growing up was to send me to the nuns who had taught him.
This was reserved, not for the occasional A- I shamefacedly brought home every so often, but for rudeness to a servant or drying myself off before the horse when I’d been out riding and caught in the rain.
Somehow, I think his generation’s “fond memories” have much to do with the decline in Catholic schools across Europe and the US.
The nastiness regarding children of lesbian and gay parents (some bishops like to follow Christ’s dictum on not keeping children from him, other bishops prefer fighting the culture wars on the backs of innocent children) hasn’t helped among those Catholics who recall a pre-JPII Church, either.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

The saddest part is that it appears that leadership never saw this coming – the trends started decades ago as schools lost the free labor of our wonderful dedicated nuns – the was the single most important early indicator – it foretold the simple fact that in the future schools would need to replace free labor with market based labor and that would lead to tuition increases and eventually the need to subsidize tuition with other sources of funding – so if leadership had been leading they would have begun to raise tuition long before it was needed thus building endowments with surplus – and would have begun to reach out to alumni and other stakeholders for contributions that would have built over time to create a perpetual subsidy to tuition keep schools affordable for all families and providing schools with resources to remain current with the latest curriculum and technology – John

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

It is not just Catholic schools. Many districts are seeing a decline in enrollment because there are fewer kids.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I too am in my late 50s & recall a church that no longer exists. Today’s services seem to be some sort of Roman Protestant sect. I keep my children in a Catholic school so that they can get a good education in an environment friendly to academics and morals. But they don’t seem to be getting either.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Umm, do the math. If a man who is one of twelve children has five children of his own and fifteen grandchildren, he has more than replaced his own generation, and that’s assuming that none of his siblings had kids. Population decrease is not the issue. The fastest-growing ethnic group in the country is mostly Catholic. Look for causation somewhere else, please.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I’m in SC and my first two kids started off in Catholic Schools. When the third was born – we could no longer afford the school added with the baby’s daycare. The school knew why we were leaving but offered us no recourse on how we could stay; no discounts, no offer for help, nothing.
It was very disheartening to say the least. It left me with one, very deep, very lasting impression – the schools care less about the Catholic part and much more about the money part. We are still very active in our parish but every time someone asks me about Catholic Schools, I tell them our experience and why we wouldn’t go back.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 1:23 pm

i agree with dymphna and k. “by the fruits you will know them.” we have a stewardship program in our parish. we get ca. $118.00 – $130.00 a week. yes, a week! but then, we are still in debt because we support the grade school [with 700 kids] and high school [500 teens]. it is puzzling, however, that after the compulsary weekly grade school mass, which in my opinion, if not celebrated meaningfully by good preaching and creatively with songs appropriate to their age, these kids learn to dislike the mass, especially the idea of coming back on sundays.
it is safe to say that high school teens would rarely cast shadows in the portals of the church. and much more is to be desired about their mentality, attitudes, lifestyle, behavior and morality. one would not be surprised about use of drugs and marijuana in the campus. it is often that we have funerals of teens due to heavy drinking.
in my opinion, catholic education has been reduced to a convenient ‘day care’ where parents can safely drop them off. they seem to have the idea that catholic education has been provided till after they pick them up from school. seemingly, teachers have become mere nannies and disciplinarians, especially of the disadvantaged who would always get the blame. kids of big givers though are untouchables.
i believe that catholic school nowadays is getting questionable as to its proper vision in line with evangelization. we should bring back catholic education in the family milieu where the gospel is made flesh. aside from draining resources and finances and making pastors like CEO’s with great business acumen, bishops love catholic schools for they are feathers in their cap for the Vatican to behold.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm

i mean $118K-$130K collection per week!!!

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posted July 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I live in RI and the Catholic schools in Providence have been closing steadily. Not enough students to keep them open. I spent 10 years teaching in a RC elementary (preschool thru 8th) school, before I retired 5 years ago. So far it is still open, partly because some of the students from the closed schools have enrolled. How much longer that will continue, who knows? Many sent their children to the Catholic schools because they were better than the public schools in the city. Many of the students weren’t Catholic.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm

If you study adults as to who goes to mass, or other metric of Catholic practice, and look for factors which predict greater levels of practice, attendance at Catholic schools is the only thing that matters. People who went to CCD as kids are no more likely to grow up to be practicing Catholics than the completely uncatechized.
In other words, of all of our evangelical activities, the only one which is at all systematically successful is the Catholic school system. And we are throwing it away with a shrug as if it’s some luxury.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm

The above comment shows how out of touch and brainwashed Americans have become by the public system. They can’t afford to pay for the private school and are offended when they don’t get handouts, “no discounts, no offer for help, nothing”. Every time you get a hand out, the rest of us taxpayers have to pay more to make up for what you are not paying. Obviously this doesn’t happen at a private school because they aren’t able to gouge tax payers the way public schools can.
Imagine having to pay your own way – that’s just terrible. What next, welfare reform? Shocking.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm

BEM, for sure, and just like when corporations and businesses don’t pay taxes, or get write-offs, etc….the rank and file have to pay….now BP is claiming an off-set from its losses and the money they are paying for clean=up

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posted July 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm

The catholic education system will only come to an end if Catholics are too weak and impotent to ensure that this system survives and that is not likely to happen. The reduction in enrollment today is almost entriely a side effect of the economic collpase of the recent years, but that is temporary. If you value your system, keep it alive!!!
However, there needs to be some concerted political action by Catholics to scale back the sheer scope of the public education system and to make it answerable to some reasonable standards. Where I live, in Baltimore, it costs on average $15,000/ student/year in the public system and $5000/student/year in the Catholic system… and I’m paying for both! What kind of morons are we if we accept this outrageous situation.
If the Catholic system dies it is entirely the fault of catholics for failing to take strong action to preserve what they know to be important to them.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 11:39 am

I’m amazed no one has mentioned the Catholic school system in the Diocese of Wichita: 38 Catholic elementary and high schools where Catholic students do not pay one cent in tuition, all in a diocese with about 116,000 Catholics.
Wichita’s secret? Orthodox Catholicism that has allowed a true stewardship program to flourish.
(Orthodoxy is also bearing other fruit in Wichita: 14 priestly ordinations in the last 5 years, with over 40 men currently in seminary.)

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posted July 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Catholic schools will only survive if people want them and are willing to pay for them. Gone are the days when Sisters taught for next to nothing. Now in many dioceses the lay teachers are unionized and with their salaries and health benefits the cost is very high. Every time tuition is raised to offset the cost, people pull their kids out and you are back where you started.
If people want to have Catholic schools continue, they have to open their wallets. If every alumus/a of a Catholic school gave back something for the education they received for next to nothing, it would be a big help.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm

The growth in the Catholic population is in the Hispanic demographic. Here in California, a majority of Latino Catholics support same-sex marriage because they don’t think the Church has any right to interfere in state affairs.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm

“If every alumus/a of a Catholic school gave back something for the education they received for next to nothing, it would be a big help.”
Not likely to happen. The world would be better of without the Catholic high school I attended.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm

The last post should read “better off” not “better of.”

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pup @ work

posted July 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I live in GA. Most schools have a wait list, even those that cost in 5 figures.
“The saddest part is that it appears that leadership never saw this coming” — what is the basis for this statement?
As the cost of teachers has gone up and Catholics have moved to the suburbs, churchs and schools in the core lost support and funding. This has gone on for at least 4 decades.
In addition, jobs and people moved from the North to the South — which is one of the reasons the Church in GA really took off. Now it is migration — chiefly but not totally from south of the border.
Another factor is that in the north there was rampant complacency. I was on a committee in Pgh while I lived there a few decades ago. People didn’t want to pay tuition for the school because their parents didn’t. Well we don’t live in our father’s world. I understand from friends the school is now closed. The school was in the city and the neighborhood demographics changed too much.
The only school failure around here was the closing of Southern Catholic College. It was de nova and never got the endowment it needed because of the financial difficulties associated with the “Internet bubble” a while back. It tied its fortunes to the Legionaires of Christ just as they were having their founder revelation difficulties.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 2:45 pm

@BEM – Before the government got into the welfare business, who really did it? Between hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens – it was the Church. While not looking for welfare, if a school is supposed to be Catholic and if charity starts at home– it should be there to help its students. In the same situation, a friend of mine in another state was able to help out around the school to decrease the tuition. In our case we were just shown the door.
Unfortunately in this case and in many others the school did not come to one’s aid. Instead, the school we went to has became less Catholic; as the old Bishop did not want to offend the nonCatholics attending the school system. In a state that is less than 5% Catholic, every chance I have to show my kids that being Catholic means something more than just Mass once a week– is one that needs to be taken. I was proud that I was able to get them in for the short time I did – I just wish it could have been longer.
If the schools do not start thinking of ways to get Catholics into their buildings in an affordable manner, we will see more and more posts of schools being closed. And here is the kicker of it all. My 13 year old son had been telling us since he was 8 that he was going to be a Priest. He just told us that he no longer wants to be one. If he had stayed in Catholic School, would he still be looking towards Priesthood? We can only guess but it is yet another reason that we need to find ways to get Catholics into Catholic Schools…

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posted July 29, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Basil wrote: Not likely to happen. The world would be better of without the Catholic high school I attended.
I don’t know what the problem with your HS was but mine was great and is in the inner city where the alumni give tremendously to its support.

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