Keeping the Faith

I was not that surprised to read it, were you?

The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago had a fine piece by Peter Beinart, very effectively making the point that, if Jews in the United States are worried about their children and grandchildren keeping the faith – - and are they ever worried! – - well, the best course of action is to support Jewish grade and high schools.

Mr. Beinart convincingly shows that Jewish children who attend Hebrew private schools are statistically much more likely, as adults, to practice their Jewish faith, attend synagogue, marry a Jewish spouse, and pass on the faith of Israel to their own children.

He remarks that American Judaism is at a crisis, with more and more Jews leaving their faith, and not raising their own children as faithful Jews.  A strong Jewish school system, argues the author, will correct that.

Sound familiar?  We Catholics have known this for years:  there is no more tried-and-true way of passing on our Catholic faith to our kids than by sacrificing to put them in a Catholic school.  Data proves they persevere in the faith at higher rates, pray better, are more faithful to Sunday Mass, live gospel values, are more generous to their parish, even have happier marriages, volunteer more, and transmit the faith to their own children, than those not in a Catholic school.

In our nation’s history, Catholic schools had two goals:  to educate excellently, and to form children in the faith.  Both are essential.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with leaders in our Catholic high schools.  They observed that, in some of their areas, the public schools were, thank God, offering a good education.  Lord knows, they remarked, their facilities, and the frills in the government schools, were more dazzling than the Catholic high schools.

So, they asserted, there was only one reason for a parent to sacrifice financially to send his/her son/daughter to the Catholic high school:  formation in faith, values, character, discipline, and religion . . . along with a first class education.

In other words, Catholic identity is a priority.

If our schools are not visibly and robustly Catholic, let’s save a lot of money and close them in areas where our children can get a decent academic education free of charge.

Our Jewish neighbors have come to know that; we had best rediscover it!

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39 Responses to “Keeping the Faith”

  1. Wendy A. Mathison says:

    Amen!
    Cardinal Dolan,
    I do not forget the sacrifices made by my family in order for my brothers and I to attend Catholic Schools. Nor do I forget the vivid lesson in just how great the education was, when I was forced to attend a public high school for 2 months at the beginning of my sophomore year.

    My parents had divorced during my freshman year of high school. So at the start of the new school year, my mom could not afford to continue sending me to Messmer High School in Milwaukee, WI.

    Not only did I experience fear of personal safety roaming those halls of that ‘state-of-the-art’, brand new public high school building, but I was also bored in my classes because it was content I had learned in 7th and 8th grade.

    Thank goodness for my years in Catholic grade school, or it might have been tempting to marvel at the pretty new building and cool classroom set-ups.

    But the seed had been planted! I missed feeling safe, I missed being challenged, and I could feel the absence of a morally sound atmosphere. It was such a dramatic change, that after a couple of weeks, I started being “sick” and refusing to go to school. I recall begging my mom to find a way to send me back to Messmer, or I told her I was going to quit going to school.

    After some phone calls to the principal at the time, Fr. John Pulice, and a promise from my grandparents of their support, I was back walking the halls of Messmer in time for Homecoming Week.

    That made such an impression on me! Not only on the value of a Catholic education, but of a Catholic rich environment-period! And, it also gave me pause for all of those who have no other choice but to attend our public schools which are in desperate, desperate need of a major overhaul!

    This coming fall, my graduating class at Messmer will celebrate our 30 year reunion.
    I can’t help but think that if God hadn’t provided for me through my grandparents and some financial creative thinking on the part of Fr. Pulice, I really, really wonder what would have become of me. I was on the brink of being a high school drop-out.

    Catholic Schools are necessary, and should be the standard for education models in any type of school. Whatever we need to do as a faith community to keep our schools going, whatever it is… we need to do it!

  2. Francesco A.A. Mastracchio says:

    Dear Cardinal Doolan,

    I could not agree with you more BUT our family cannot afford to pay separate tuitions let alone for one child. Parochial schools have become standard for those with disposable incomes but not a reality for the working middle class who live paycheck to paycheck just to pay bills. Also, Catholic schools do not address kids with disciplinary issues…Bible thumping evangelical Christian schools have excelled in this field of education.

    Francesco. (Catch me on linked in too).

  3. MM says:

    Amen. In order to compete, Catholic schools must provide a first class education and that is where our parish school fell short. After much prayer and many tears we reluctantly pulled our child and placed him into the local public school.

    In communities with top-ranked public schools, the sacrifices a family must make in order to choose a Catholic education become difficult to justify, and if the educational opportunities available to Catholic school students fall woefully short of those available in the public school, you’ll see your child’s path leading away from Catholic school.

  4. Sarah Pierzchala says:

    Does homeschooling in a Catholic home count? Or does a good Catholic education only happen in a bricks-and-mortar school building, at great expense?

    Our Catholic homeschooling group here in Portland, centered around a Dominican parish, is very vibrant and active, and”socialization”, faith formation, arts, youth Eucharistic adoration,community service, pro-life activities, etc. are thriving. Many of our youngsters move on to top Catholic colleges around the country—all without a specific school building or faculty.

  5. Maria says:

    I agree with you, Your Excellency, about Catholic Identity as a necessary priority. But Catholic schools? I went to Catholic school and nearly lost my faith. Many of my friends went to Catholic school and they have completely lost their faith. Cf. the Vatican’s reprimand of the LCWR!

  6. Sean Mullane says:

    Your Eminence,

    My parents were from Ireland and I was brought up in a “old-Irish” catholic home. I would like to send my son to the best Catholic Private School available. This is important for his faith and education.

    Wanting to and being able to afford it though are two different matters. I am saying this as my wife is a teacher and I am a cop.

    Is there anything that the leadership of the Catholic church can do to help families like ours get the tution rate down, while still providing a “Cream of the Crop”, Best of the Best” private Catholic school education for our children.

    God bless you,
    Sincerely
    Sean Mullane

  7. Joseph Kaminsky says:

    I have heard people say they won’t send their children to Catholic schools because “They are not Catholic enough.”
    Years ago, I heard Father Charles Gallagher SJ respond, “So the public schools are more Catholic?”

  8. Taylor says:

    Your Eminence,

    This is interesting data, because, anecdotally…let’s just say it seems that the perspective of what formation people receive in Catholic schools now is the same as the deplorable situation of RCIA programs–typically led by laypeople who teach erroneous or contrary teachings–whether maliciously or not–such as Christ being half-God and half-man, etc.

    If the primary purpose of marriage is, as the Holy Office in the 1940s confirmed, the begetting and education of children, then why is homeschooling not a good option? If my children are homeschooled, at least we can be assured of preserving our Catholic identity, which is rooted and intertwined within tradition–they will pray the noontime Angelus at the least, have a devotion to Our Lady by wearing the Brown Scapular, will abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year, fast throughout all of Lent when they are of the proper age, learn to make a good confession every two weeks or so, attend First Friday and Saturdays…I could go on.

    The point I get at is that while some data may show otherwise, I find around my parts the perception is bleak for Catholic schooling–though I wish it were not the case for any parts of the Nation. Anyway, if meatless Fridays year-round are parts of Catholic identity toothpaste out of the tube, why are Catholic schools an exception? It doesn’t need to be the case. We can rebuild our Catholic identity.

  9. Keeping them Catholic says:

    As a half/homeschooler, half/Catholic school parent I feel compelled to comment that the article has many great points and many truths. However, those larger Catholic families that have been called to either homeschool our kids or put them in Catholic schools can attest to the fact that Catholic Schools have become an “elitist” system of education. We have 3 of our children in the local Catholic school and cannot afford to put them all in the school. They are willing to work with us, but to have all 7 of our children in Catholic schools is not feasible. The Catholic High School in our area charges tuition comparable to the local university and all the Catholic schools are feeling pressure from parents to “keep up with the technology” that other public schools can offer. Until we are willing to demand LESS tuition (or lower standards technologically) from our schools, families who have more than the American average 1.86 children will have a tough time rising to the demands this article espouses.

  10. Judith O'Keefe says:

    With all due respect your Excellency, we could not afford to send our four children to Parochial School whether of not they received scholarships or not. We have twins.
    Add transportation to that (we both work to survive) and there is just no way this is possible. (I would love to see all children have a Catholic education, but …) We drive 13 year old cars, have a mortgage, pay high taxes, etc., etc.

  11. Chris Cassleman says:

    Thank you Cardinal for support of Catholic Schools – God bless you – You need to be selling to the parish priest. In my experience they need evangilizing. There’s no enthusiam for Catholic Schools in most diocese among clergy – most see as a financial burden instead of the great gem that it is. Father is not enthisiastic – so lay Catholic in the pew is not. So lay Catholic says – no need to sacrifice -I’ll send my children to public school-save money for Cancun, hockey team, Disneyworld, Prestige University.

  12. Leah E. says:

    I heartily agree. The only problem for us is that we cannot afford a Catholic school. As a result, we homeschool and use a Catholic curriculum when possible.

  13. Ron Kneusel says:

    While I have no doubt that Catholic children who attend Catholic schools “persevere in the faith at higher rates” than those who go to public schools, I strongly suspect that if you look at Catholic homeschoolers, you will find still higher rates.

    Half of our six kids are in college now, all homeschooled through high school, and all are strong Catholics who chose to attend Catholic colleges/universities or are active in groups like Focus at their engineering school.

    Please do not ignore the blessings of Catholic homeschooling! In our experience it is as good, and I’ll say it, better, than the parochial schools we considered.

  14. Blake Helgoth says:

    Your Eminence,
    Catholic school do not often provide a complete Catholic education. They usually offer a religion class, but do not offer Catholic history, writting, literature, etc. Also, in the quest to become accredited, they have exchanged a Catholic mode of education for that of the state. These are two of the many reasons that our children receive their Catholic education at home. Thanks for all you are doing for Christ Jesus, Our Lord! God bless you and congratulations on the red hat!

  15. TJ Burdick says:

    Cardinal Dolan, please help make Catholic Education available to all. http://www.CatholicEducationForAll.org.
    In Christ.

  16. Paul says:

    I am sorry, but I would not put my child in a Catholic School and expect the school to teach them the faith or even strengthen the faith we teach them at home. Our parish school is incredibly strong academically but, at the same time, woefully weak when they were given a test gauging their knowledge and acceptance of our Faith. To quote Bishop Fulton Sheen, “I tell my relatives and best friends, ‘If you want your children to fight for their faith, send them to public school. If you want them to lose their faith, send them to Catholic school.’”

  17. Tom Coffey says:

    Your Excellency, I am sure that historically you are correct. I benefited greatly from attending Catholic schools. Today ,however ,having sent my children to several so called Catholic schools I can assure you that in many places if not all it is the easiest way to loose your faith.

  18. Dave Rigg says:

    I could not agree more about the value of Catholic schools. My wife and I are both products of Catholic education, and my wife has taught for 35 years in a large Catholic elementary school here in Phoenix. We, as many parents did then and do now, sacrificed some to make sure our two daughters attended at least twelve years Catholic school. We are most thankful that our daughters have continued to grow in their faith, and have their children enrolled in Catholic schools. We both feel that Catholic schools played a significant role in their continuing faith formation.

  19. M K Blair says:

    Well said, Excellency!
    However, not all of our Bishops are keeping an eye on our Catholic schools! Many parents are having to home school to be sure they are being taught properly….
    Many so called ‘Catholic’ schools use the public school itinerary with little or no Catholic teachings. And, MOST of our so called ‘Catholic’ colleges refuse to follow Holy Mother Church teachings! Their teachings are an embarassment to me because they seem to say that being a ‘cafeteria catholic’ is ok –”just being politically correct!
    Besides praying alot, what can the average faithful Catholic in the pew do to help our Bishops step up to do their jobs rightfully?
    Your sister in Christ,
    Mary Blair

  20. Maria says:

    It’s sad how Catholic homeschooling is usually ignored in conversations about Catholic education…

  21. Miranda says:

    You make a good point that the only reason to send children to Catholic schools is formation in faith, values, character, discipline, and religion. Many Catholic schools offer just that, but unfortunately, many do not. When my daughter was in Catholic school, religion was taught in her class a handful of times a year; it was the subject that always got pushed out if time ran short. The history textbooks, published for public school use, were overtly anti-Catholic. In fact, except for the religion text which was almost never used, all the books were secular.Popular literature was taught instead of saints’ lives or even non-religious but classic and worthy texts. When discipline problems arose among other students that began to affect my daughter, I pulled her out. We have home schooled ever since, using a thoroughly Catholic curriculum. This enables us to attend daily Mass at the many parishes who offer it, for some reason, when most of the world is at work or school.

  22. michael miller says:

    I chose to homeschool. The Catholic School environment is sadly lacking real “Catholicity.” In general, I feel that to be a true statement nowadays.
    Most students are not Catholic. The curriculum is geared to State standards, and is in no way evangelistic of historical Catholicism. If you want to get into percentages, I do not think more than 20% of faculty can be said to be Catholic in any really meaningful way. (At least it FEELS that way.) What I suggest, dear Cardinal Archbishop, is to incorporate the laity into your education ministry. Instead of just employing them, license them to run the schools themselves, under certain strict guidelines. This may be a way out of the coming government take-over of schools etc. in the second term.

  23. Maria Key says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,
    Where do you see Catholic homeschooling fitting in to “there is no more tried-and-true way of passing on our Catholic faith to our kids than by sacrificing to put them in a Catholic school?” I’m not trying to start (or continue) an internal war on Parochial vs. Homeschool, but it seems to me that there is an almost total silence among Catholic leadership, at the national, diocesan and parish level regarding homeschooling. For example, there is nothing on the website for the Archdiocese of New York regarding homeschooling. We are treated like the elephant in the room. You know we are there, but you don’t want to draw undo attention to us, for fear that we draw students away from parochial schools. My advice: Be not afraid. I believe the Catholic homeschooling movement is a work of the Holy Spirit necessary for these times. Not all parents will be called to it, but if they are, it would be better for parishes to support them and welcome them into parish life.

  24. Philumina says:

    I was quite pleased with the message presented in this blog post as it progressed. That is, until we came to the ending. Cardinal Dolan was entirely right in addressing the importance of enrolling our children in Catholic schools in order to maintain our “Catholic identity”. However, the conclusion comes to me as a bit of a shock.
    Would not the answer to the dilemma of maintaining what is “visibly and robustly Catholic” be to invest as much as possible in our children’s truly Catholic upbringing, rather than to “save a lot of money” and put them in the public school system? No matter how intelligible the academic education is in public schools, it is the atmosphere, the social pressures and norms, and the terrible examples of the average American teenager which ought to be avoided.

    I speak only with the authority of one who has attended both private Catholic school and public high school. The culture of American youth is not only abrasive to the young Catholic’s lifestyle and system of belief, it is destructive and outrageously discordant with the morals we hold dear. Be cautious, my fellow Catholics.
    Your children’s souls are entrusted to your formation by God.
    God Bless!

  25. Teresa A says:

    What about truly authentic, Catholic homeschooling?

  26. Gabrielle Lucey says:

    Great article Cardinal Dolan!

    Please consider as a priority Catholic education and making it more affordable for Catholic families. Because of tuition costs, families who have more children are less able to afford Catholic schools. In a way, this discourages married couples form to being open to God’s plan for them when it comes to having more children. Thank you for your consideration.

  27. Joseph Mazzara says:

    Bishop Dolan,

    No offense, sir, but I’d like to see some studies that show that Catholic schools encourage a deeper and greater devotion to the Faith compared to, say, home education (not strictly speaking homeschooling). Comparing the formation of Catholic schools to public schools is great, it can show that Catholic schools are better in the most important area of life, our Faith, and our mystical relationship with Christ.

    However, Catholic schools can be very damaging to the Faith if they are staffed by teachers who stress sentimentality before heroic and saintly virtue, and the poor formation isn’t counteracted by shrewd parents. Take for instance a teacher I know who was given, by her pastor, the “Angel Food for Boys and Girls” series of children’s stories. She hid it on the bottom shelf, behind a projector. They are simple stories that teach the Faith and assist in moral formation that pretty much all young children love when they have the stories read to them.

    How many of your Catholic schools require book reports on books about Saints? I don’t know, maybe many, I’m asking this sincerely and not out of an “Ah ha, gotcha!” attitude. How many extol the virtues of women like St. Catherine of Siena, St. Terese of Lisieux, St. Scholastica, St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, St. Sebastian, etc, compared to social heroes of America who have lived in the past 2-3 hundred years?

    It is hard to entrust my children, of which I have two (God willing more in the future), to Catholic schools that allow girls who are in middle school and high school to hike their skirts up to immodest heights.

    Whether you homeschool, send your kids to Catholic school, or public school, what’s important is what goes on in the house. Pope John Paul II’s CCC says so much between paragraphs 2221 and 2231. The parents are the primary educators of their children, and the most important chain in the defense of our Faith. As one who has taught CCD for kids who attend public school, the solution to bad Faith and poor morals is found first in the home. If a parent isn’t evangelizing and forming their children in the home, very rarely will you see a school make a significant positive (dramatic) impact in the life of the children. It happens, but rarely.

    What we had best rediscover is the importance of parents in doing more than sitting back and letting their children inculcate themsleves in whatever culture (Catholic, protestant, rock and roll, drug, MTV, new age) the kid wants to be a part of. My wife and I frequently discuss “when our kids are old enough, do we homeschool, or send to Catholic school.” It depends, will that Catholic school be toxic to the faith of our kids? The fact that we have to ask that question might show either a) a misperception on our part (a not uncommon one if that is the case), or that there is something awry in Catholic education in the US.

  28. Joseph Mazzara says:

    One example of schools (colleges) comes to mind. We could compare Boston College or Notre Dame to places like Thomas Aquinas, Wyoming Catholic or Christendom College.

    In the first two cases, take Notre Dame who had people locked up who were protesting the honoring of a rabidly pro-abortion politician. How about Boston college and their allowance of such things like the faux-art performance of the “Vagina Monologues.”

  29. LFK says:

    If our schools were truly Catholic with a strong Catholic identity, I would agree more. But not only are the schools in our diocese not strongly Catholic except for social justice issues, the parents are all part of the “lost to the faith” generation. They have drunk too heavily from the poison that is our culture, and their children reflect that. Second graders watching “American Pie” at a sleep over – boy am I glad that we missed that one! But I was the only parent who was shocked! Striving for holiness is just not part of the American Dream we are chasing after. We decided to homeschool instead. And is it ever hard, but I would never go back.

  30. Katherine says:

    I went to Catholic grade schools but a public high school. My two brothers went to Catholic grade and high schools. My husband and I are faithfully practicing Catholics homeschooling 4 children in the faith. Both of my brothers are lapsed. Both of them denounce the education they got at their Catholic high school. They tell me the school has a drug problem that is ignored and the Catholic identity is very weak. One told me of being given the “I’m personally opposed to abortion but…” speech by a teacher.

    It seems like maybe the Catholic education system needs a thorough examination the way the seminaries and religious orders were considered. JMHO.

  31. Rodrigo Rios says:

    Hello Cardinal Dolan! My name is Rodrigo Rios and I’m deacon in Brazil. I read your post and I thought about our catholic schools in my country. We have good education, but only a few catholic schools pass the faith correctly, a true experience with Jesus. And we are a “big” nation catholic. Is the time to come back a Catholic identity, as you wrote. The true identity. God bless us.

  32. Larry says:

    “If our schools are not visibly and robustly Catholic..” Are they, Your Eminence–at least in New York?

  33. Vincent Nagle says:

    in my family the four oldest went to parochial school and the four youngest went to public school. Non of the four oldest are now christians and they are pretty anti catholic for the most part. Among the four younger children, I am a priest, I have another brother who is a mildly practicing Catholic, another who is a very strong protestant but very involved with Catholics, and then a militant atheist. I am not certain that parochial schools have helped maintain Catholic identity… or at least I have grave doubts about the efficacy of Catholic schools to introduce students to the faith. Maybe it should happen, but in fact, as a matter of course, it seems to me the opposite happens. These schools graduate students who are certain they know what the faith is when in fact they have never been presented with it, and therefore are in a sense ‘inoculated’ against the faith.

  34. Irene says:

    Cardinal Dolan- My school is part of the “regionalization” pilot. Could you please publish the names and affiliations of the members of the regional boards (we are in the North Bronx/ South Bronx region) I would very much like to know who will be deciding the future of my childrens’ school.

    I think it is very important to have good representation of stakeholders: parents, religious sisters, pastors, teachers and experts.

  35. Christopher Ruckdeschel says:

    Your Eminence:

    Could you possibly post a link to the data you’ve cited in this post? I’m very interested to read it.

    Hoping for your blessing, respectfully yours in Christ,
    Christopher Ruckdeschel

  36. Bill says:

    In my parish in St. Louis the vast majority of children who attend our parish school leave the faith. The homeschool families are the only families whose children stay Catholic. In our time if our schools and our families are not “visibly and robustly Catholic” as the Cardinal says we are indeed wasting a lot of money and effort.

  37. Virginia and Tom Scheller says:

    Why don’t you stand up for our wonderful Catholic Sisters? How can you allow Rome to attack the LCWR? With the history of the many Bishops and the coverup of crimes against children. What credibility to they have to investigate the wonderful orders of sisters who teach, run hospitals and care for the sick, the poor, those without health care, those unemployed, the prisoner. Should I go on any further? Why don’t you take a stand, like Christ would? Don’t join the pharisees and those promoting hypocrisy. The greatest commandment is love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself. They are attacking thousands of dedicated woman at the average age of 69. How shameful. Don’t be afraid. Send with the Sisters. Send with the true church who serve the people of God. Stand with the true message of Jesus. Don’t be afraid. Virginia and Tom Scheller Lovers of the Church and Catholic School.

  38. Natalie says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dolan last week at a reception in his honor. When I spoke with him, I told him of the wonderful education that I had received at the Catholic grade school and high school I attended in Manhattan. The education prepared me for college. And, I proudly state that I am an NYU School of Business graduates. It was a sacrifice for my mother to send my two sisters and me to Catholic school, especially since she was the sole supporter of my family. But, the sacrifice was well worth it, since both my sisters attended NYU School of the Arts and Sciences and the NYU School Of Dentistry.

    Though we have moved out to middle class neighborhoods in the suburbs, we have chosen Catholic school for our children as well. My son attends mass every Wednesday and during Lent the school attended the stations of the cross every Friday.

    I must say that I remember every math and language arts lesson taught to me by the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt. I am able to help my son with his school work. The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary taught the young women of St. Michael’s Academy so many invaluable lessons. We were taught to respect ourselves and encouraged to pursue higher education and careers.

    Cardinal Dolan, though I no longer reside in your archdiocese, I love it! My husband and I bring our son to mass at St. Patricks’s and as a result of the fine Catholic education we received and that I son is currently receiving, we know he loves Jesus and his Catholic faith!

    May God continue to blessed the Catholic church.

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for being a fine example of a priest.

  39. Liam says:

    I agree that a Catholic education is one valuable means of raising children in our faith. However, once we have been educated and become adults, the hierarchy of the Church chooses not to allow us to exercise that faith. The hierarchy treats laypeople (including the Sisters who dedicate their lives to the Church) with disrespect.

    The shameful manner in which the hierarchy protected and continues to protect priests (and bank accounts) rather than fully address the sexual abuse scandals, the disrespectful manner in which the Bishops chose to express disagreement with theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, the repeated threats to withhold sacraments from Catholics rather than reaching out in a pastoral manner – all these and more are examples of a high-handed hierarchy which seeks more to preserve their status quo than to engage in pastoral dialogue with other members of the Body of Christ.

    I pray that you and your fellow Bishops look to more productive ways of engaging Catholics (women and men, straight and gay, married and divorced) before you empty the pews entirely.