Sunday, January 8, 2012

The New Blessing of Catholic School Closings

The continuing trend of Catholic School closings is getting media attention in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where it was recently announced that Conwell-Egan Catholic High School will be closing its doors this June as well as 44 parish school in the suburban areas of the archdiocese.

One concerned group of parents is trying to do something about the freefall in Catholic education.  Formed in 2010, the Office of Undoing The Catholic Academies and Schools Tanking (O.U.T.C.A.S.T.), has sent investigative teams to find the reasons for the decline of Catholic education in Pennsylvania.

One of those investigators, Bart Symczyk, believes that the problem can be traced to three major factors:  The decline of women’s religious orders, depletion of funding pay sex abuse settlements and a huge jump in tuition fees.  “The nuns just aren’t there anymore.  At the schools that do have nuns, it’s usually just one or two and you can’t even tell they’re nuns.  You can’t hire laypeople to do a job at low wages as a substitute for a vocation to teach.  Dioceses just aren’t funding the schools as well either, since all the extra money is paying attorney’s fees and settlements for the bad priests we’ve had for the last decade or two.  Finally, most parents just can’t sacrifice more than 10 percent of their income to pay tuition.  It’s a triple whammy.”

Sister Bertha Rhys O.B.W., former vice-principal of the now-defunct St. Cedric’s elementary school in North Philadelphia, couldn’t disagree more.  We had a dynamic pool of entry-level teachers rotating in every year who were only too happy to add “Catholic Educator” to their resumes before moving up.  The problem is that sexist dinosaurs like Mr. Symczyk cannot accept the updating and renewals we have been blessed to introduce since Vatican II.

“For instance, we took all the Baltimore Catechisms and collected them as part of the paper drive at our very first Earth Day celebration back in 1971.  Since then, we’ve managed to collect Catholic readers, Douay-Rheims Bibles and various books from TAN publishers to keep all their outdated stuff out of circulation.  We also introduced Gay Pride Awareness Week, and Ecumenical Outreach Club where we met twice a month with Muslim schoolchildren and a sex education program that was second to none in the country.  Our children’s liturgies were also on the cutting edge, introducing liturgical dance and student-composed liturgies far in advance of most other dioceses.”

One longtime pastor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Catholic parents should not be so negative, but look instead for the hidden blessings of Catholic School closings:  “This greatly relieves the financial burden of parents who were scraping by now that they can just release their kids into the public school system.  The stigma of being a Catholic student is, happily, disappearing and students are finding acceptance with mainstream society as they become more like the mainstream themselves.

"Now that money can be spent on better vacations.  In fact, since I no longer have to concern myself with a parish school, I’ve taken several vacations and am looking forward to next month when three other priests and myself will be making a pilgrimage to Bangkok.  We’re all members of the diocesan theological commission, so we’ll get a chance to relax, compare notes and enhance the seminary experience for the next generation of priests.”

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