Often to determine where you are, it is best to see where you came from. Kicking off the week-long look at Catholic Education, let’s look back to the “good old days.” It was just fifty years ago when we were turning kids away for lack of space!
It was the 1960’s and 5.7 million children were being educated in Catholic Schools in the US – accounting for 12% of the entire US school population. In this pre-birth control era, Catholic families had an average of 4 children. The immigration of Irish, Polish and Italians from the prior decades fostered many urban parishes to pop up, some only blocks apart.
During this decade, Vatican II came to a close and full and active participation of all the faithful fostered by liturgies being said in the vernacular, versus Latin, contributed to vibrant parishes. And the fuel used to power the 12,893, mainly urban, Catholic schools? Religious sisters! In fact they represented some 90+% of the faculty used to teach in these schools…most paid little to nothing as it was their ministry. And while many of them were gifted in the profession (and I can remember some from my grammar school days at Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, NJ), there were many more who gained their training on the job.
But without these dedicated religious, Catholic education would never have flourished to the extent it did. The early 1960’s model was perfect: bulging number of Catholics, large families, schools with a majority of ‘free’ labor who provided a safe, effective and religious environment for a primary and secondary education. And pew filled parishes had weekly collections that supported the parish schools to the point where the tuition was nominal, making it affordable for nearly anyone who wanted to come.
So what happen?