When you have kids, opinions that you maybe mildly held in the past either get vigorously overturned or become something you would practically die for. Case in point: schooling. How can a parent not be passionate about the environment they are going to send their little, tender lambs to for 6 to 8 hours a day for 13 years? I actually, quite literally, had no opinion about where a child should be sent to school until I started realizing that my oldest, Jack, would be crossing this milestone in just a couple of years. Suddenly I became very opinionated. I had an upbringing wherein my schooling made me a little Pharisee. I don’t want that for my kids. But I know it’s my responsibility to raise them to be dedicated Catholics. So that has to play into this, too. I was actually leaning toward public school.
But as a good convert, I realize that I’m not the only person who has ever thought about how schooling relates to raising a child. I started reading papal encyclicals, trying to get the “mind of the church” as they say. And what I found surprised me (even though it really shouldn’t have): Catholics of past generations apparently really dig Catholic Schools.
The Catholic School has this very tender, warm place in Catholic culture and history. Popes and bishops wrote eloquently of the forming of not just the intellect of the child, but also the character – of bringing children closer to Jesus because no education would be complete without that overarching goal. The problem, for at least one pope I read, was not even just that public schools might disparage belief, but that they were neutral on the topic. Jesus becomes just another subject on a syllabus of multiple and equally important topics and ideas and not the driving force and final end of all education.*
Then I began noticing how even people who aren’t Catholic respect the academics of Catholic Schools – and will pay through the nose to get their children in there. How ironic! Pastors have to walk around with begging bowls to parishioners to keep churches going. All the while, down the street, people who aren’t even a part of the church are paying exorbitant amounts of money to send their children to an institution where they will be taught to follow Jesus and be indoctrinated with counter-cultural morals.
Indoctrinated with Christianity….. at least that’s the idea. That was the idea. There was a dream that was Roman Catholic Schooling, but with many Catholic schools losing their identity and turning out to be just as good as public schools at churning out fallen-away Catholics, the dream looks more like a nightmare.**
But even so, the tender, warm place in Rome’s heart is becoming that place in my own. While I know that tuition is high, and while I know that Catholic Schools may not be what they used to be when it comes to faith-formation, I want to send my children there. And it’s somewhat similar to the same reason I became Catholic. I want to keep the dream alive. I want there to be an institution where my children will learn about their faith but still rub shoulders with all sorts of people who don’t believe. I want them to experience the Catholic Church in all her beauty and warts – full of people who are fully committed, and others who know so little they are only Catholic in name. Why? Because that’s the church Jesus founded and died for. Also, I can’t bear to see something with such a rich history and such wonderful potential get shoved to the side. The nations are streaming to Mt. Zion in the form of little children in uniforms. How sad it would be if we turned them away because of low enrollment.
I have hope that the dream will stay alive. But it won’t stay alive if I keep my children out of it. It can’t survive if enrollment is low or if it’s ripped from the hands of Catholics who actually believe what Catholicism teaches, only to be handed over to those who believe little or nothing about it (and care little or nothing for it). I can’t stand and watch as such a rich heritage, such a rich gift from God, wastes away like that. It may not be an essential institution to the worldwide Catholic family in the centuries to come. Homeschooling or independent Catholic schools, or some public/Catholic hybrid may take it’s place. I don’t know. But it’s part of the family jewels so to speak. Like Michelangelo’s art on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, the church would still be a church without it, but what a loss if it were gone.
Our Catholic Schools already surpass their counterparts academically. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that our Catholic Schools need to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. Catholic schools need to be Catholic. And that means Catholics, lay and clergy alike, need to take ownership of them. We need to fight for them.
*DIVINI ILLIUS MAGISTRI, ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XI ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, Dec., 31, 1931