A Catholic Education for Every Catholic Kid: Considering Education in a Catholic System

This is the third in a series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education (Part one, Part two).  The presumption of the series is that we, as Catholic parents, are primarily responsible for giving our children an education that includes the essential ingredients of Catholic teaching no matter where they learn their ABC's and 123's.  If our child is enrolled in a Catholic school, then all the essential knowledge in the ways of the Faith — heart, hand, and head knowledge — are going to be mixed into our child's school day.

In considering Catholic institutions, it is important to look at each school individually and with an eye to four important points: first, consistency in applying Church teachings across all classes and programs; second, the model of Catholic Christian living provided by the faculty; third, whether religion teachers and campus ministers are in line with the Magisterium, enthused, and engaged; and fourth, the vision and spiritual commitment of school administrators.  Intellectual rigor and all our other educational desires remain important, but we will not accomplish our goal of giving them a thorough and authentic Catholic education by sending them to an institution that has for whatever reason morphed into just another private school with a veneer of Catholicism.

Our two older children attended a Catholic grammar school in California that had just such a veneer.  Relationships with teachers and administrators that began with mutual respect, ended with confusion and disappointment.  Despite having holy statues and crosses everywhere, after three years of involvement with the school, nothing could conceal the decidedly non-Catholic agenda of several important faculty members.  It indiscreetly filtered through the curricula and down to the students.  So disillusioned were we that we only barely considered a Catholic school when our oldest was ready for high school.  But, thank heaven, we did consider one in our diocese; Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, MA.  The spiritual and intellectual integrity of this Catholic high school has renewed our faith in the Catholic school system, and we are genuinely grateful to be partnering with them in educating our high school students.

 Cost and distance are the most formidable barriers to enrollment in a Catholic school.  Where we live in the Diocese of Fall River in the 2006-2007 school year, the lowest Catholic school tuition is $1,850 per year for pre-kindergarten and the highest is $6,950 per year for high school.  That's a lot of clams to shell out for school tuition, so parents may need to make some hard financial decisions.  Parents I've talked to come up with tuition by delaying home repairs, driving used cars, and dipping into savings accounts.  Others sacrifice vacations, boats, golfing, eating out, and recreational shopping.  We have never had a stash of cash labeled "free and clear to be used for tuition."  Nonetheless, my husband and I determined that it was during high school, even more than during college, that we wanted our teens to continue in a system of learning where their hearts, hands, and heads would be educated side-by-side.  Praying that God would make up where we lacked financially, we applied for need-based financial aid, my husband got a second job, we refinanced our house, cut household spending, and gratefully accepted help from extended family.

It's no fun to realize we can't have or do everything, but if we weigh the cost of providing the pleasures and perks of life against the cost of giving our child a Catholic education, we might find that we can balance the bank book by replacing one with the other.  Every diocese in the country will have different aid programs; in our diocese, need-based scholarships for elementary and middle school students are available through the generous efforts of the St. Mary's Education Fund.  Need-based assistance is also offered by individual high schools. 

In terms of distance, every school will be different, but all have car pools, and some have busing.  Faith in God's providence, along with hard work and getting assistance where possible — that is how most families are able to enroll their kids in a Catholic school.  Even if the cost or the commute appears insurmountable, I would encourage families to investigate the lifelong benefits of giving their children a good Catholic education.  Next time, we will take a look at our child's faith formation in partnership with non-Catholic grammar and middle schools.

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  • Guest

    Here we go again, It's always about the wealthy.  Parents you have talked to about delaying home repairs, driving used cars, and and dipping into savings accounts.  What about poor Catholic familys?  the ones who pay rent they can hardly afford, never mind driving used cars to jobs that pay nothing.  And savings accounts, what is that to a family of 4 or 5 that are trying to get by and trying to stay strong in their Faith?  Forget about Catholic Schools for their kids.  Others sacrifice vacations, golfing, eating out, boats, Give us all a break, it's always been about the wealthy and will always be.  That's what the catholic schools and churches are all about, not helping the people. 

  • Guest

    All I can suggest is to wait and see. Ms. Bratton has yet to discuss home schooling and how to teach the Catholic faith at home while sending kids to a public school that is hostile to the faith, but I expect she will.  I certainly find no fault with her decision to discuss the traditional methods of teaching the Catholic faith first. The aid programs mentioned are for poorer students as well.

    If the Church and Catholic schools are all about the rich, why is the Bride of Christ growing fastest in Africa? Africa is most assuredly not rich.

  • Guest

    Dear Markpro67:  Historically it has not been about the wealthy.  Catholic schools used to be free for parishioners-but what happened?  For one, there was a decline in folks responding to their God-given religious vocations.  Running a school with a religious faculty vs a lay faculty is a huge financial difference on the school budget.  (Even as expensive as Catholic schools are today, the Catholic schools for the most part DO NOT pay a family or just wage to their teaches.)  Secondly, many 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who are Catholic became more wealthy-but their contributions to the Church have not kept up with their wealth.  I daresay if all Catholics supported their parish at even a 5% of salary level, the school could easily be free for all Catholics.  There are parishes in this country where if you tithe, your kid goes free. 

    I have taught in Catholic schools, sent my kids to them, and have homeschooled.  Generalizations are hard to prove on both ends.  There is a financial problem-as you say.  I think it is more complex historically and currently than you state it.

  • Guest
    It is what it is markpro67, regardless of what you choose to believe. I can speak first hand to the generosity and charitable nature of the church as I attended Catholic school while growing up in a family that was anything but wealthy. My parents received financial aid for our education (not through the State but rather through the church) and the parents of my best friend in elementary school never paid a penny for his education, uniforms, school supplies…. A vacation in our family was a weekend drive to the lake sleeping in used sleeping bags on used cots purchased at the army / nave store for next to nothing…. The most amazing thing in our lives is how blessed we all are today. JR
  • Guest

    You are right, markpro67. Nowadays, both mom and dad must work and they must still contribute a great deal of their free time to the school if they want to send their children to a Catholic school. Where is the family life then? It is gone. Replaced by the SCHOOL and its needs. The family, especially if they are receiving charity, have to become slaves to the school. So many then conclude, it would be easier to have the wife work.

    Or if they are independently wealthy and have only two children whether from infertility or lack of generosity, then it may be possible to swing it.

    The other writers are drawing on their experience with Catholic schools from years ago.

    Also, what about long commutes? They are very detrimental to whatever religious and family goals you are trying to accomplish, especially with people whose kids are wealthy and spoiled.

    So I find it an injustice that a part of my church tithing is going to help wealthy kids go to a Catholic school. I don't think they need the Church's monetary help. on the other hand, large Catholic families are left out in the cold.

    It is fine with us because the education we give our children is much better than any Catholic school could give. But don't go on about the how we should help spoiled, rich kids with their parochial school education tuition and help pay for multimillion dollar school buidings.

  • Guest

    Mrs. Bratton indirectly raises the central question that the Church must deal with to educate Catholic children. Is the faith education of children the responsibility of their parents or entire the Catholic community?

    Since 1970, the bishops have placed the responsibility on the parents, making a Catholic education available only to the wealthy. Oh yes, the Church has token demeaning subsidy programs for "poor" families, but these programs do not represent a commitment of the faith community to Catholic education.

    And, the absence of meaningful adult education programs in the Church tends to validate the idea that Catholic education is not a value of the American Catholic Church.

    It's time we had a discussion about Catholic education … whenever the bishops are ready.

  • Guest

    One of the results of poor funding  and increase in lay teachers for parish schools is that increasingly they reached out to the non-Catholic student base.  They did this, substantially, because in that way they could increase their tuition dollars.  The non-Catholic child wasn't receiving a subsidy, the tuition was simply extra money coming in.  The problem this created was two fold.  First, the children whose parents were wealthy enough to foot the entire bill were children from relatively wealthy families, and generally they thought of themselves as "better" than the run of the mill scholarship kid.  This changed the social dynamic in one way.  Secondly, they were not part of the Catholic culture and simply putting them in Catholic religion classes didn't really change that.  There was and is a degree of antagonism that simply wasn't there when Catholic schools consisted of Catholic students.

     In our area the Catholic school is viewed simply as a fancy private school.  This certainly is not the vision the pastor has for it, nor is it what some of the teachers want.  However, there are both faculty and parents who are more than content to see the Catholic part of the school watered down.  When hard choices have to be made the school will continue to place the emphasis on things like French and let the religion class be taught by any faculty member who's actually Catholic (regardless of their knowledge of theology). 

     This school does offer scholarship help, and I've actually known kids who have gone there substantially on scholarship.  However, the fact that they HAVE full scholarship students does not change the culture of the school.  It only means that there becomes a social structure that encourages cliques.  The reality also is that students from well to do families are handled with kid gloves as far as discipline is concerned because not only are their tuition dollars important to the running of the school, but their parents are also among the chief fund raisers and leaders in the parent teacher organizational structure (even if they aren't Catholic).

     Yes, there are still some really good Catholic schools out there.  There are some still run by religious orders, there are some small parent run ones, there may even be a few parish ones.  However, the caveat emptor warning should be followed by any parent considering any educational option.  No one should blithely enroll their child in any school, or blithely sail into homeschooling without doing their homework ahead of time.

    This looks like it's going to be a good series, but I hope that the author is going to be thorough in her overall assessment of the options, including discussing the difficulty for families who attempt to combine options in some fashion or other (combining home school with some form of schooling or Catholic school with public for example).  I also hope that she will focus on the fact that ultimately, even if you send your child to a good Catholic school, it is the parents who are primarily responsible for the child's religious education, not the school.  Only when the faith is thoroughly integrated into family life, made the top priority in family life will we be successful in raising truly Catholic children.  No school can do that for you.

  • Guest

    Ditto to merrylamb's comments.

    I'm concerned by what I perceive as a lack of charity in some of the posts.  I really wonder about "the good Catholic education" parents are giving kids with the use of charged language such as "spoiled rich kids" and judgmental assumptions about people's vacation choices and used cars that aren't used enough.

     "Father that they may be one."  Remember that?

     

  • Guest

    The Diocese of Wichita in Kansas provides a Catholic Education for every student who wants one……with  NO tuition.   It was quite a project  achieving this but they did it.   Read more about it below.

     

    http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/802032/wichita_catholic_schools_tuition_model_may_help_reverse_declining_enrollments/index.html

     

    http://www.cdowk.org/stewardship_development/documents/drexel_fund_faqs.pdf 

  • Guest

    Reading the first comment reminded me of a saying I rather like.

    Universal statements (ie using terms such as always, are all about) are never correct.  OK, OK ,very rarely correct.

     

     Assuming that everyone involved in a insitution has the same motivations, what ever they may be, is to willingly mislead yourself.

      There are many in the Church and working at Catholic schools who desire to be of service to everyone regardless of income level and who work at making this possible if only by working at for as little as they can while still having a chance of fulfilling their natural obligations.

    There are those who like to be of service to everyone but  for whatever reason haven't actually done anything, either becouse they don't see how or they think it's someone else's problem. 

      There are others who for various reasons spend no time thinking about those who'd have problems paying for tuition.

      Then there are likely those for whom other things have become more important  and who may not really want those of a lower 'social economic status' in their schools.

     

    And in many ways the same is true of parents, there are parents who've managed to send their children to a Catholic school by working longer, spending less, applying for all possible aid even though an outside observer would think it impossible  because they thought it of overwhelming inportance.

     

    There are parents willing to make some sacrifices and work a bit harder but only to a point, who find this important but perhaps other things are also considered as important and/or they think that they can achieve the desired end by another means.  As a personal example, we are raising four children (so far)  on a single salary and we would not make choices that would require me to stop staying at home even though we do not trust the government funded schools (we live in Canada and traditional morality is actively taught against in many schools). For us the solution has been to homeschool thus combining our responsiblity for our children's education with having a stay-at-home parent.

     

    There are parents who think it would be good but who can't see how they could possiblely work harder or spend less or find the necessary assistance.  Sometimes it's because there truly isn't a reasonable way and sometimes it's because there are things that they, for what ever reason, do not contemplate doing. 

     

    And then there are parents who don't care enough to make the sacrifice for whatever reason, and there are parents who can afford it easily and do so for the wrong reasons.

  • Guest

    I'm hoping that the desert of Catholic Education is coming to an end.  Too often, Catholic schools survive in spite of the diocese and Priests involved.  Sadly, Catholic schools are often tolerated – but rarely supported in this part of the world.  We live from day to day.  The hierarchy tolerates us, and if the anything negative happens – it becomes the topic of gossip throughout the parishes.  It is amazing that the schools survive…but they do.

  • Guest

    So far, I haven't seen any mention of independent Catholic schools.  Our three sons attend such a school, and although the tuition is extremely steep ($11,000-17,000), we are blessedly free from bureaucracy.  The tuition is high because the school gets no parish subsidy, and pays a living wage to its all-male faculty, many of whom are fathers of large families.  The spiritual aspects of the school are entrusted to Opus Dei, which insures that the theology is orthodox. There is Mass every day, but attendance is optional (except for certain special feast days, when an all-school Mass is held), and confession is available every day from the two full-time chaplains provided by Opus Dei.

    Yes, it is expensive, and families who choose this school are also supporting public schools through their taxes and Catholic schools through their parish contributions, but there is generous financial aid, and most parents think they are getting their money's worth.

  • Guest

    BLAH BLAH BLAH,  The same old talk, I never read anyone mention wealthy people giving up all their expensise toys and vacations. 

  • Guest

    If someone can give me some solid advice and point me in the right direction, then I'll listen.

  • Guest

    markpro67,

    JimAroo gave you a diocese which has NO tuition for its Catholic schools. Try that direction.

    Here's some advice, since you asked for some: Re-read your post in light of the point of the topic. We are discussing Catholic education.  

    What does whether wealthy people give up their expensive toys and vacations or not have to do with it? How would wealthy people giving up their expensive possessions improve Catholic education?  How would wealthy people keeping their expensive possessions harm Catholic education?

    Are you proposing a means test for all parishioners to see whether they tithe and then have a scale for how much each family can pay? If so, then say so.  If not, then what are you proposing?

    It sounds like you just don't like wealthy people.

     

  • Guest

    Boy, Protect the Rock.  You're up early or late!

    If I were to send my kids, sons in particular, to a Catholic school, I would research how many vocations the school had had in its history.  The school in my community boasts that it was the first to integrate in our state but in its 55 years it cannot boast a single vocation!  In fact, our dear, holy priest practically cried  during his retirement speech because of it.  I don't send my kids there.  In fact, we no longer attend that parish.  We drive 30 miles every week to attend a church (as members) that has had many past and current vocations.  Our Bishop was an alter boy there too!

    With regard to Catholic schools.  My sister sends her kids to an excellent one in the Arlington Diocese.  Their tuition is about

    $6000/ year. I couldn't afford that per child for my 7 school aged children, however, I do think it's a reasonable price and I realize  that lay teachers need to be paid a living wage.  I also don't think other people should be paying for my kids unless I've fallen on some extreme hard times (like I become a widow…..) We homeschool our children with the associated costs, as an alternative to using the Catholic institutions even when the schools are reasonably priced and faithful.  (I don't think I could pack all those lunches every day and sign all the paper work or volunteer for spaghetti suppers anyway!) 

  • Guest

    Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy — er, never mind.

    The openness and response to vocations is a good yardstick to use. It is remarkable how the more a parish or school adheres to the teachings of the Faith, the more people seem to hear and respond to God's call.

  • Guest

    Speaking of sleeping, my husband sneezed at 4 AM last night.  I said, "Bless you."  He responded, " Don't you ever sleep?"

    I said, "Not really.  I just drift in and out of what I call 'Twilight sleep'".

    Kinda funny..those wee hour dialogues.

  • Guest

    Are you living in the United States?  Do you have a job earning minimum wage or more?  Do you have food, shelter, and climate-appropriate clothing?  Chances are, you are the wealthy!  Even America's poor are the wealthy of the world.  In truly poor countries, the Catholic church is educating the true poor–more often than not without cost to those being educated.  Most Catholic schools here in the U.S. have a policy that no one be turned away for financial reasons, and they have the ability to do this thanks to the generosity of donors.  It's not about the wealthy, it's about everyone acknowledging that our gifts(financial and otherwise) are from God and we need to use them to bring Christ to as many souls as we can. 

  • Guest

    Still nothing

  • Guest

    I'd like to know where these generous people are in new england?  And why didn't the Principle at the Catholic School i applied to, tell me about asking for help or point me in the right direction?  And this was a Nun.  She just said that thats the sad truth about the tuition at Catholic Schoolsm, and left it at that. 

  • Guest

    However, very well put csandkc.  Thank you for your statement.

  • Guest

    The reason I'm up so late is that I work third shift.

  • Guest

    Still nothing?

  • Guest

    Markpro67,

    It is unclear to me what you are waiting for. As I asked in my post on October 2:

    What does whether wealthy people give up their expensive toys and vacations or not have to do with it? How would wealthy people giving up their expensive possessions improve Catholic education?  How would wealthy people keeping their expensive possessions harm Catholic education?

    Are you proposing a means test for all parishioners to see whether they tithe and then have a scale for how much each family can pay? If so, then say so.  If not, then what are you proposing?

  • Guest

    What do you proposing?  You must be wealthy from the way you defend the rich.

  • Guest

    What are you proposing?  Sorry

  • Guest

    I am arguably not very wealthy by Amercian standards, but I am certainly wealthy by overall world standards. I don't have a boat, or an expensive car, or a vacation home or anything.  But I am able to pay the mortgage and feed my family by living within my means.

    But that seems to me to be unconnected to the topic of providing a Catholic education.

    I do not understand how a wealthy person's cars or boats or vacation homes must be sold or donated (?) in order to make a Catholic education available. Is it your contention that each parish mandate the wealthiest families donate all such items?  Are you suggesting it be done at the diocese level? How does it help ensure the faith will be integrated into all aspects of the instruction, versus providing a "private secular school with a CCD class included." 

    It's curriculum and passing on our Catholic intellectual heritage that is in question.

    But you seemed to be angry at rich people and blame them for Catholic school problems.

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