Are Catholic Schools Fading Away?

Are Catholic Schools Fading Away?

Starting Sunday, January 28th, Catholic Schools Week begins. The principal at St. Patrick School in Chatham, New Jersey addressed the congregation at the 5:00 PM mass and asked that they pray for St. Patrick’s School. Given that I belong to St. Patrick’s and care deeply about Catholic education, I will pray for the school even though I do not see a future for the school beyond a few more years. Many schools in the area have closed due to lack of enrollment. With 9 students in the First Grade, St. Patrick School is facing a similar fate.

It is a good school with many fine teachers but these same teachers cannot continue to teach at the same salary level for many more years. Many Catholic Schools like St. Patrick’s cannot continue to raise tuition as it becomes a self-defeating cycle. At $9,500 per student now, many parents have reached their financial limitations. The sad fact is that there are many Catholic couples in the parish that would like to send their children to St. Pat’s but just cannot afford the tuition.

I thought back of the Catholic schools in the Detroit area that I had attended and they have one thing in common. They are all closed. The population in the City has declined so much that even the public schools are closing. Years ago, the Catholic schools depended on the good sisters to staff the schools but sadly even the sisters have seen drastic declines in their vocations. Couple this with the rising cost of salaries, benefits, books, heating-and-cooling costs, and the installation of computers and network requirements and the cost of a school in 2018 is easily ten times that of a school in 1980. Most private Catholic high schools have prohibitive tuition levels that in some cases are equivalent to the cost of a year in college.

The future of our Catholic schools is realistically bleak at best. We can kid ourselves and pretend that new schools will be built but sadly this is not the case. Many schools will close and to the best of my knowledge there are no new schools planned at least for area in which I reside. So many factors influence Catholic schools:

  1. Like the general population, there has been a decline in the birth rate also among Catholic couples.
  2. Many couples now marry later in life.
  3. Also, many young professionals graduate from college with student loans causing them to defer the start of a family for several years.

Returning to my parish school, to be honest, I am not sure what we are praying for? I applaud the teachers at the school and the parents of the students attending. Truly they are sacrificing to send their children to a Catholic school, but it appears that as the saying goes, “the handwriting is on the wall.” I am grateful for the years that we had Catholic schools but I have accepted the fact that they will slowly fade away.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer
  • Hi Donald. I have written for Catholic Journal as well, and also know about your school as my child attends a competing school nearby. I think the answer to keeping Catholic schools open is to make them classical education schools and to stay away from novelties like Common Core. If Catholic schools don’t differentiate themselves from public schools, what’s the point of a Catholic education? Classical education has been catching on all over the country, and we could sure use a school like that in the area. Why not St. Pat’s? Please feel free to contact me if you like. I only wish my kids had attended a classical education school.

  • The schools have been fading for decades. Back in the 70s, about 8 of our local smaller Catholic schools pooled together into one ‘central’. I don’t know if that is still going or not. We lost the teachings sisters first of all to modernist for the most part and then they were just plain lost but, sadly, they took many souls with them.

  • I think some of the parishes need to go to a tithing parish and then offer free tuition. This requires faith of course. I think the diocese of Wichita, KS did this, and my brother was in a tithing parish in St Louis with “free” tuition. The whole congregation needs to be committed to Catholic education, which is the primary place of evangelization.