I just received a message on my Deacon’s Facebook page from a follower asking my thoughts about the recently published N.Y Times Op-Ed piece and the role deacons could play as part of the solution to the crisis we face in Catholic Education.
The article begins by listing many of the current statistics of where we are today with regards to this issue:
· More than a third of parochial schools in the United States closed between 1965 and 1990 Enrollment fell by more than half during that time
· Since then, enrollment has plunged despite strong demand from students and families.
· At the same time the need is great as almost 30 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists
· The American Catholic population has grown by 45 percent since 1965.
· Hispanics, who are often underserved by public schools, account for about 45 percent of American Catholics and an even higher proportion of Catholic children, but many cannot afford rising fees.
Just about a year ago, during Catholic Schools Week, I wrote a series of blogs on Catholic Education that also identified the following:
· Since 1960 the number of religious sisters in the US has dropped from 180,000 to about 56,000, with an average age of 69 years.
· In 1960 the sisters accounted for 92+% of the faculty, they now account for 2.5%
· In order to remain somewhat competitive Catholic schools have had to begin to compensate the faculty closer to the pay of the public sector, adding to their escalating costs.
In summary, the future of Catholic Education is a multifaceted problem:
Money: The financial model of the 1960’s is long gone where Catholic education was a ”gift” of the Church on the backs of the religious for the benefit of the children of the parish. Catholics, as a group, need to decide the importance of Catholic Education and then support it. Note: in Lakewood NJ, the public schools serve 5,300 students. The Jewish Orthodox, financially committed to teach its faith, educate 17,000 students!
Staffing: As the writers of the Op Ed piece point out there are certainly opportunities for deacons to assist, along with Lay Ecclesial Ministers and the laity – but in general, that is happening now. But certainly, as the number of deacons increase (where allowed by the local bishop) and when the deacons are allowed to function fully in the faculties that came with their ordination (where allowed by local bishops and their pastors), then yes, many of them can add great value in a variety of areas, working alongside the priests and the laity in running parishes and schools.
Parental Involvement: What is often overlooked is role that each parent must play in the education of the children in the faith. For those married in the Church, it was a promise made on the day of their marriage – i.e. to raise the children in the faith, for they are to be the first and best teachers in the faith. Catholic Education is more than just having a Catholic School. It is how we raise our children, love our children, and teach our children by being living examples of what it means to be a Christian – a disciple of Christ.
So I cannot necessarily agree with John J. Hughes, the first archbishop of New York (1842), who was quoted in the article as saying some 160 years ago: “The school is more necessary than the church.” I would say in 2013 – the schools….the laity….the parents…the clergy…all play equal and critical roles in looking ahead as to what the “church” and “church schools” of the next 50 years will look like. Needless to say, it will not be same...