On a bright, sunny, cloudless September morning, I dropped our daughter off for her first day of classes at her new hybrid classical Protestant school. Yes, you read that correctly. Her new Protestant school. The school is a hybrid: three days per week of classroom instruction combined with two days of homeschooling. What brought my husband and I to decide to enroll her in a Protestant school was years of frustration, disappointments, and outrage at the state of Catholic education, combined with a path we have walked that is very different from our own plans.
Thirteen years ago when my husband and I married, we thought we would have a large family and that I would stay home to homeschool. God’s plans, however, have been very different from what we expected. I gave birth to our now 12-year-old daughter 11 months after our wedding. We then walked the deeply painful cross of secondary infertility that started when I miscarried our daughter’s twin early in the pregnancy. I then experienced another four miscarried babies over the next 11 years. After countless medical tests revealing debilitating hormone deficiencies, attempts at NaPro treatments, and countless needles, it became clear that God’s plan for our family is not large, but rather, is closer to an image of the Holy Family.
I started homeschooling our daughter as we had planned and she excelled through Kindergarten and First Grade, but then early one morning at 4:30 am, my husband called out to me. He was coughing up large amounts of bright red blood into the bathroom sink. I had to race him to the hospital. This began a nearly 3-year process of hospital visits, infusion treatments, and chronic illness.
Long-time readers know that my husband was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis. His immune system was attacking and destroying his lungs. In previous times it was a 3-year death sentence. Thanks be to God, medical innovations such as prednisone and anti-body infusion immunosuppressants helped my husband enter into remission in December 2019.
Homeschooling our only child in the midst of so much chaos and turmoil became extremely difficult. She had been a year ahead. We lost all of that when my husband became seriously ill. As difficult as it was for us to face, we realized that she needed stability and her peers. We turned to the Catholic school in our area. We knew it wasn’t a perfect option, but we wouldn’t realize until she started at the school how toxic of an option it was for her.
One of the first things we noticed was how little the Catholic faith was integrated into the program. Her teacher—a very sweet woman—was not Catholic, so she was incapable of teaching the children about their Catholic faith, even though she was a great teacher. We were seeking a fully integrated Catholic education for our daughter that would help her grow in virtue, holiness, and a deepening of her Catholic Faith. What made it worse was our daughter was miserable at school. The environment was not a healthy one. It became clear to us pretty quickly that we were paying way too much money on top of insane medical bills for a secular education with Mass once per week.
This reality was confirmed to me repeatedly by multiple priests who serve as chaplains at Catholic schools. They talked about the anti-clericalism of the schools and what little power they had, especially in regional schools. They constantly confronted kids and staff who were pro-LGBT, pro-abortion, or opposed to other Church teachings and outright hostile to the priests. I was astonished when a close priest friend called me one day to tell me that students had quite literally yelled at him after a homily he preached during a school Mass. In fact, priests in multiple dioceses assigned to schools are worried that they will get in trouble for teaching the truth in the face of pressure from poorly evangelized Catholic families and non-Catholic families in the schools. They do not believe they will be supported by their chanceries. Needless to say, we pulled our daughter out of the school after a year.
COVID-19 led to a return to homeschooling for our family, but we had to confront the reality that our only child was deeply lonely and that I could not continue to force her to be alone with me all week. The Catholic homeschool co-op in our area wasn’t an option at the time due to the constant fluctuations of families moving in and out of the area, which forced multiple families into the same school our daughter now attends.
Seeing how miserable our extrovert daughter was homeschooling by herself, we decided to give the Catholic schools one more shot; this time, across the state. We were told the Catholic school we enrolled her in was better, so we chanced it and made the move. What I didn’t fully grasp in my naiveté was better did not mean a fully integrated Catholic education, and thanks to COVID, a lot of destructive materials and situations have been allowed into the schools in the name of reaching enrollment numbers.
I became concerned pretty quickly when I looked at the 6th-grade reading list. Almost all of the books were dystopian in nature—not good dystopia—and I was upset to see The Hunger Games on the list. I could not understand how a book about children being forced to murder one another was an appropriate reading option at a Catholic school. After other questionable materials arose, I had to write to the school for what would not be the last time.
The first time they took my concerns seriously and pulled the book, but then even more situations began to arise that I couldn’t ignore. My daughter came home one day to tell me the 6th-grade boys in her class had been talking to her about pornography. I expected this in public schools given the average age of first-time porn use is 13 and can be as young as 8. I wasn’t prepared for how Catholic schools are just as bad in this area.
To make matters worse, a couple of weeks later, she came home to tell me that one of the girls at recess had come up to her group and asked them if they wanted to summon a demon. I reached my tolerance limit. Occult items were something our daughter saw on a regular basis in the school. Girls were reading dark, horror books about the diabolical. One girl was reading about palm reading and had palm reading symbols on her notebooks. Another was reading a horror book about a diabolically possessed person and it was not for the sake of learning about spiritual warfare and the dangers of the occult. The kids engaged in gruesomely violent discussions at school based on the movies they watched with no oversight from their parents.
More and more non-Catholics are coming into the schools and bringing in dark elements from the culture. There seems to be very little parental oversight as to what kids are doing with their phones and tablets and the schools are not confronting the inevitable issues that arise when poorly formed Catholics and non-Catholics are the majority of families enrolling in Catholic schools. Considering that I have literally heard one homily in my entire life on pornography and one on the dangers of the occult, it can’t be too surprising that this is happening. We never hear about it from our spiritual leaders, so people don’t take these dangerous materials seriously despite how rampant these problems are in our culture and in the Church.
Many Catholic schools seem to intentionally minimize their Catholic identity in favor of simply being private schools with high college enrollment rates. A Catholic education system that minimizes Catholic identity will inevitably forsake its Catholic identity for worldly prestige and money—despite the good intentions of hard-working teachers and administrators. The results will be increasingly more and more spiritually disastrous, which is why so many Catholic families are abandoning Catholic schools in droves for homeschooling, Montessori, or Protestant schools that seek a truly Christian identity.
All of this is what led us to the painful decision to place her in a non-denominational Protestant school and to cut ties with the Catholic schools until college. I would rather our daughter see people who love Jesus—even with profound theological differences—and who are seeking a Christian education and environment for their kids, than place her in an environment, that for all intents and purposes, is secular and Catholic in name only.
In my mind, it is more scandalizing for her to confront Catholics in name only than to be at a Protestant school that is serious about being a disciple of the Lord. She was told on multiple occasions at the Catholic school that our family is “too Catholic.” Ironically, we’ve been welcomed with open arms at her Protestant school despite our Catholicism. Our daughter can also attend daily Mass three times per week and Adoration twice per week with me, which is considerably more than at the Catholic schools she attended.
At the parent meeting at our daughter’s new school at the beginning of the year, the director read a quote about how Christian education too often has become a secular education with a smattering of Jesus, but that they want Jesus integrated into every subject at the school. Even though I am a more reserved Catholic, I wanted to stand up and yell “Preach it, Sister!” That has been our experience and I have seen the detrimental and dangerous impacts on my daughter and other students in Catholic schools like the ones we enrolled her in.
As I wrote to the last Catholic school our daughter attended when we pulled her from the school, “My husband and I are more concerned about the salvation of our daughter’s soul and that she gets into heaven than we are with her getting into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford where she is most likely to lose her soul.” The sad reality is that Catholic education in far too many places has lost its soul and identity. We don’t even remember our own story because we have chosen mammon and enrollment numbers over leading souls to Christ.
How can we possibly expect to survive the spiritual and demographic collapse that is upon us if Catholic education abandons its true mission of leading souls to Christ? When Catholic schools fail Catholic families, as painful as it is to make the choice, our answer will be to seek Christian allies elsewhere. We will need one another in the years to come.