Monday, January 6, 2014

Have Catholic Schools Become Our New Churches?

Have we moved so far away from the original intent of the American Catholic school? What would Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton say if she were alive today?  She was shunned by her family both socially and financially for converting to Catholicism.  She was so convinced in the need for Catholic schools for immigrant families that she sought financial help and did not give up until she got it.  What was her vision for the future Catholic schools of America? Was it what it is today?

It is said that humans are hard-wired to worship.  Without God in our lives, we seek something else to worship whether it be money, fame, youth, clothing, houses, cars, Hollywood idols, whatever.  I got dragged into a conversation today by two parents who were discussing their children's Catholic school tuition.  One was a practicing Catholic and the other was a non-Catholic (practicing nothing).  The non-Catholic was upset that the quality of education at this school did not match the hefty tuition cost, and he was upset there was a "discount" for people who "just belonged to the Church".

I have been actively involved with Catholic schools in our Archdiocese now for twenty years.  What I have sadly seen time and time again is hordes of well-intentioned wealthy parents pay for a Catholic education for their children because it is a "wholesome environment".  Many of these parents never attend mass or seldomly attend mass or send their children in their place.  The faith is not their number one priority in choosing a school.  Once their last child graduates from 8th grade…so long to Catholicism.

I cannot speak for Catholic schools all across the nation, but I would wager a bet that urban and suburban (of large cities) Catholic schools are very similar in this regard.  Perhaps the parents grew up attending Catholic school and they want to pass those "traditions" on to their children, or perhaps it's just a better alternative to public schools and they have the money to pay for it.  What I begin to see as the families go through the grades, is the list of complaints regarding the school begins to grow. The parents are upset that the Catholic schools don't "have" the "things" that the public schools have or that the elite private schools have.  They want all the tax-paid goodies, so they push and push and push until their wholesome Catholic school more closely resembles the local high-end public schools replete with all of its bells and whistles.

Unfortunately, administrators can fall prey to this kind of thinking as well.  The emphasis no longer is on our Catholic faith, but a top notch education in a wholesome environment…and oh yeah, by the way, we attend mass once a week.  Parents become obsessed with making their Catholic school into an elite private school or the best public school.  They talk and talk and talk about all the things they want to do for the school, but never do Church matters cross their lips.  They aren't upset that the pastor can't fix the air conditioning in the church due to low funds, but they sure can shell out thousands of dollars for the latest school fundraiser.  They also become obsessed with the school sports.  If you ever attend a Catholic middle school basketball game, you'd think you were watching the NBA.  The intensity of the fans is practically equivalent.  Coaches pace back and forth on the sidelines with veins bulging in their necks.  Parents sit on pins and needles at every shot, foul, and free throw.  Let's be honest, unless little Logan sprouts up about THREE FEET, he probably has no chance whatsoever at becoming an NBA player…or a college player.

The parents of today's modern Catholic schools have made the school their new Church.  Worshipping God has been replaced with worshipping their children's schools.  They must have the best!  No stopping!

Demand more and if we can't have it, we'll fundraise for it, and by the grace of God we'll get the money for it!  We're paying a hefty tuition bill each month, so we're owed it.

And it really irks them that those weird families who go to Church get a discount.  I am here to say that the Church families are not getting a discount.  The Church families are what the Catholic schools are all about - or should be about.  The tuition is set for practicing Catholic families.  Anyone else who is lucky enough to attend, but does not want to be a part of our faith community will have to pay a heftier price.  The most faith-filled school children I ever saw were in an urban Catholic school with very limited financial resources.  The halls were bare.  The doors were metal.  The classrooms were large with high ceilings and very stark.  The children were numerous (far too numerous by typical suburban standards).  The school staffed several nuns and the Catholic faith was number one there.  It was evident.  There was NO DENYING it was a Catholic school!  The children?…they were happy…REALLY HAPPY!

Parents must remember that happiness does not come in the form of more goodies and the best sports teams - it comes when our faith is number one.  Church is vital to a healthy family.  God is first.  Everything comes second.  Catholic schools must never forget their mission - to provide a Catholic education to Catholic children so that they may practice their faith in school as well as at home.  God is the source of truth, goodness, and pure love.  Children get it…why don't the parents?


Steve Kellmeyer said...

The short answer is "yes."

As I point out in my book, Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America, if you ask a parish council why the parish exists, they will say that the church exists in order to support the school.

The pastor will look shocked, and then say "No, it's the other way around." But the parish council won't ever believe him. I know. I've seen this conversation played out numerous times.

Agnes Day said...

Thank you so much for your insight and writing! I remember reading about your book somewhere last year - maybe through a blog or through fb - I can't remember. Anyway, I sent the link and my thoughts (that this is what I've seen and continue to see) to a priest friend of ours. I don't think I got a reply. It's frustrating for sure and I don't see any way off the course we're currently on unless parents begin to wake up.