School Choices at a Glance

When I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, Catholic education didn't seem that complicated to me. Like most of the other kids from St. Elizabeth parish, I attended the parochial elementary school for eight years and then went to one of the Catholic high schools in the area.

Now, as the father of six children, I understand that there's much more to providing an education for my children than meets the eye. There are now more educational options than ever, and Catholic schools are very expensive for medium-to-large middle-class families.

My wife Maureen and I annually survey the horizon to find what's best for each particular child, keeping in mind his or her needs, gifts, and interests, but above all our duty to provide for our children's formation in the Catholic faith. We're well aware that many of our own contemporaries stopped practicing the faith upon graduation, and so we see clearly the need to discern the matter with great care.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that parents not only should select a suitable school, but even more "they have the mission of educating their children in the Christian faith." It seems to me that this "mission" from God should not be taken lightly.

What Are the Options?

There are many ways that Catholic parents can fulfill their mission to educate their children in the Christian faith. Among the various choices, pride of place still belongs to Catholic schools, where the faith is taught in the context of a thoroughly Catholic curriculum and environment. In fact, Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education  says, "Catholic parents are reminded of their duty to send their children to Catholic schools wherever this is possible, to give schools all the support in their power, and to cooperate with them in their work for the good of their children" (no. 8).

 In addition, there are now a growing number of independent schools. Many of these schools have arisen in response to perceived deficiencies in the existing Catholic and public schools. They tend to be smaller and more autonomous, giving parents greater control over curriculum and student life.

Other private schools, including Protestant-run Christian schools, often provide a high-quality education coupled with strong moral formation. The downside, of course, is that the Catholic faith is not taught and in fact the child will likely be challenged early and often regarding his or her distinctively Catholic beliefs. The child will require very strong grounding in the faith at home to flourish in that setting.

Public schools are always an affordable option, and in some cases they may be the best choice because of the range of special educational services and programs they provide. Given the pervasively secular nature of the public school system, however, parents need to be especially vigilant.

Homeschooling continues to be the fastest-growing option. In the United States, more than 2 million children are homeschooled, and that number is increasing 7-15 percent every year. My own family homeschools. No doubt, it can be demanding, especially for larger families. Yet by seeing our home as a "Catholic school," we believe that we are embracing our mission as the primary educators of our children in a singularly proactive way.

We must consider all of these options in light of the reality of today's political and social climate. Societal attacks on marriage and family life filter their way down to individual families in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. If someone today speaks out against perverse lifestyles, he's vilified and sent away for "sensitivity training." However, large families are fair game, and derogatory comments about one's family size are commonplace and socially acceptable.

Further, exercising our right to educate our children as we see fit comes at a significant cost. For example, as a homeschooling father, even before buying books and school supplies for my home, I support the public and Catholic school systems through my taxes and tithes.

While assistance from the government in the form of vouchers would be most welcome, parents should also be able to expect assistance and support from the local church when it comes to our educational choices. It seems to me that a culture of cooperation would be much more constructive than a culture of competition and suspicion. One encouraging example of this cooperation occurs when Catholic schools, taking their lead from the public schools, allow homeschooling families to use some of their resources.

For many reasons, there is a natural tension among proponents of the educational alternatives available to us. The fact is that in choosing what's best for their particular children, Catholic parents should enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school. The Catechism affirms the parents' right to choose a school that corresponds to their own convictions (no. 2229).

In response to all this, I'd like to offer four principles that have guided my family's decisions regarding the education of our children.

The faith is primary. When the Church teaches that an end of marriage is "the procreation and education of children," she does not mean raising the next generation of Harvard, Yale, or even Notre Dame graduates. Rather, the Church has always understood "education" in the sense of educating children for the worship of God — in other words, helping them discover and fulfill their vocation as children of God.

Given this mind-set, our first question must be how well our educational choice will ensure that the faith is communicated to our children. Religious training isn't simply an extra-curricular activity like sports, music, or art, but rather must be the most basic element of their education, one which informs everything else our children do. That's why our homeschool has adopted the Ignatian motto "ad majorem Dei gloriam" which means "for the greater glory of God." We try to use this as a means of reminding ourselves and our children what our first priority truly is.

One size doesn't necessarily fit all. While faith is the primary concern, academic achievement and human formation should not be discounted. As we know from our catechism, "grace builds on nature," and the educational process is meant to cultivate "nature" as a means of preparing our children for their vocations in life. Each child has his or her special gifts and talents that should be developed.

Sometimes doing what's best for our child might call us out of our comfort zone. Maybe we always had planned on homeschooling our children or sending them all to the local Catholic school, but for whatever reason that choice doesn't work for little Johnny or Sally. In that case, we need to be flexible and docile to the Holy Spirit in selecting an appropriate alternative.

It takes a parish. Even if we choose not to send our children to the parish school, we should still view the parish as the center of our educational endeavors. The Catechism calls the parish "the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families;…a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents" (no. 2226). Pope John Paul II wrote that "as far as possible, the lay faithful ought to collaborate in every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their own ecclesial family [i.e., parish]."

I realize that for some people there is a disconnect. Communion with the Holy Father is one thing, but communion with one's bishop and diocese or even with one's pastor and parish is an entirely different matter. Sometimes legitimate frustrations concerning what is, or isn't, being taught in the parish school lead parents to opt out of the Catholic school system. Yet one of the principal ways that parents educate their children in the Christian faith is by "participation in the life of the Church" (Compendium, no. 461). Difficulties with the local pastor or school should not create an antagonistic, "separatist" attitude toward one's parish.

We're all homeschoolers. Twenty years ago, I taught a seventh-grade CCD class composed of public school kids. The class met one hour per week during the school year. After one or two classes, it became abundantly clear to me that there were a couple of kids who were being trained well at home and this class merely supplemented and enriched what they already had learned. The rest were religiously illiterate and not getting much out of the class. Upon some inquiry, I found that most of them were not even taken to Mass on Sunday or in any meaningful way catechized at home.

This experience brought "home" to me the reality that "the role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute" (Catechism, no. 2221). Other individuals and institutions can help us immensely, but they can't really be expected to compensate for our own failure to educate our children. After all, "family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith" (Catechism, no. 2226).

Let's renew our resolve to help our children and grandchildren achieve not only honor rolls and achievement awards, but even more the "crown of life" (Jas 1:12) or "imperishable wreath" (1 Cor 9:25) that awaits God's faithful children.

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  • Guest

    My 1980s Catholic High School education left me doubting Jesus in the Eucharist and believing that masturbation was okay. I have a very hard time trusting today’s Catholic education. The local school is fairly good but I have issues with trusting today;s church in faith education. I still feel the relativists are in charge and control the mediocre faith education.

    I just recently allowed my kids to attend CCD (they are 12 years old down to 4 months). I am teaching CCD and find the books used a little light on morality and devotion and heavy on God is love and mercy.

    I want true Catholic schools to flourish but I am afraid to trust any single teacher with the Catholic faith until they prove they are faithful to the Church. I do not want to come across as a militant Catholic and I want my kids to love the entire Church. But, I do not want to risk the ill formation of their consciences to “Catholic” in name only teachers.

    It is a tough line to hold considering the beauty of the Catholic faith but the state of Catholic education today. I am looking for the schools to stand behind the Catholic faith first and foremost, and until I see that I cannot allow my children into a “Catholic” education disquised as a secular prep-school that only puts up with Christ’s bride so that it can push acedemics.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    GK, sir –

    DON’T trust the Pope without your own lessons, as well.

    Indeed, Old Ratz would smile and assure you that I am right. You give your wunderbrude a mighty lesson when you enter your kitchen, grab up your wife and ask ‘Are you married, yet, lady? If you aren’t will you marry me? Pretty please, with sugar on it?’ Her delight and yours gives a lesson in Sixth-Commandment and Sacrament-of-Matimony that will NEVER be forgotten. They’ll still be talking about Dad and Mom half-way into eternity. (‘And, Father, Dad asked Mom to marry him – all over again!‘ “A bright man, your Dad . . .” ‘Yeah! Almost as bright as Mom . . . she did marry him, You know . . .’)

    Yeah, there’s the drudgery of ‘preaching’, but always keep in mind that without the preaching Peter, and the Apostles, and the mighty Paul, Chrysologus, Ambrose, Augustine and uncountable numbers with and after them – the Church of Christ and of His Gospel would have floundered into a small remnant of what the Church is today.

    As well, too, so close to your beloved children, you can give the teaching each needs right now to enhance all other orthodox teaching.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    GK, I can feel what you feel. And I think PS has they key.
    When WE parents (and I know you do) stand up and take the responsibility of teaching our children first, foremost, and unceasingly, the Catholic Faith as been handed down throughout the ages, we cannot fail.

    But if you are waiting for the Catholic schools to turn around and stand up in the site of God before you will attend them, they have little or no hope. Without the well-formed parents fighting to get the Catholic back into Catholic schools, how will it get there?

    I know the battle is not for everyone. And I have a problem entering into it with the “I must put my children on the front lines” mentality. But at the same time, it cannot improve from the top-down. There has to be a bottom-up push as well.

    For us, the battle has only begun. It is a quiet and prayerful battle so far. (the oldest is only in 2nd grade). It has been a moderately effective battle so far. Hopefully we’ll make it out on the other end some day. But there’s always a chance I may come back to the forums and say, GK…you were right. We had to run for cover. I expect to raise some very discerning children-turned-adults. I expect them to never equate “law” with “good” (i.e… abortion)…and I expect them to never equate “catholic” with “Catholic” (i.e…catholic-in-name-only with teachings-of-Christ).

  • Guest

    Of course, I should note that, if it was up to me, I would be homeschooling the children until 4th or 5th grade to make sure that that Catholic-foundation is so rock-solid. Things are never cut-and-dry!

  • Guest

    Amen! This article really breaks down in practical terms how parents are called to educate their children. I grew up in a public school and took CCD classes at the local parish; it would be easy for me to blame my high school for teaching skewed morals and my CCD classes for being weak, but in truth I was taken to Mass by my dad or sister only after begging and, needless to say, was not instructed at home. Only by the grace of God did I discover EWTN and eventually go to a good Catholic university.

    It just goes to show that the life of a family, parish, or society can only flourish by holiness. Let’s hope and pray that more of us rethink our priorities!

  • Guest

    Got it right, lpioch –

    YOU don’t put them on the front line – THEY enthusiastically put themselves there. (You just wring your hands praying all the while they man God’s battles . . .)

    Of ‘enthusiasm’ – it means ‘in (en-) God (-Theos)’ – and in the fire of His love.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    Parents ask questions about my education and prior work experience. Parents ask how many teachers are certified and how many have advanced degrees but NOT ONE parent has ever asked if all the teachers are Catholic! Catholic schools changed from religious sisters, to Catholic lay teachers, to Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, etc. Parents never ask about the religious beliefs of the teachers.
    I wish parents would reclaim their parish schools. Home Schooling is fine but I believe Catholic Schools, if orthodox, are better.

  • Guest

    Parents never ask about the religious beliefs of the teachers.

    Man that is such a bummer! When will people care about the faith in Catholic Schools again? Can parents who were ill formed in the faith reclaim the schools? Heck, we have a better chance if the Muslims take over the schools and insist on teaching of morality. Only the Spirit can manage this. Parents cannot change institutions driven by the bottom line as prep-schools. St. Bonaventure pray for us. St. Thomas Aquinas pray for us.

    I’d rather have my child ignorant of spelling than know nothing of his faith. We have spell checkers, but as far as I know there is no MS-Orthodoxy-Check yet.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Catholic schools are worth fighting for. The burden of support of Catholic schools needs to be shared by the entire parish, not just young families with children. Our Catholic schools should not be tuition based. Please get involved and help your Catholic schools become authentically Catholic.

  • Guest

    I am facing the Catholic school problem, too. I live in a accedemically great school district. The prices of our homes and the level of our taxes are bouyed by it. Also I have what seems to be a good Catholic School. I know the principal personally and he is a God fearing man. But what of the teachers? My wife is not of the mind for home schooling.

    I was unimpressed with the religious extent of my 15 years of Catholic education (2nd grade through college). The best I can say is Kumbiya. I can’t gaurentee that my 4 year old will turn her heart to God even with the best Catholic education. But I want her to know the truth of the faith so if and when her heart does turn she will have the education already in her head.

    I agree with Mr Suprenant that religious education is the first and most fundimental of my parental duties. I just want to know what the proper support team is?

    The study of God is a study of Love

  • Guest

    As a pastor in a parish with a school, I really appreciate Mr. Suprenant’s article. I am tempted to borrow a few points for my weekend homily during Catholic Schools Week later this month, if he would not mind.

    Ours is a relatively small school in a small-town parish in western Kansas. I spend several hours a day in the school, frequently teaching, sometimes just interacting with the kids. I know every child in the school, and I know all their families. And I want to echo Mr. Suprenant’s comments about teaching seventh grade CCD and finding so many of the youth to be religiously illiterate. I see the same thing happening in Catholic schools. While a Catholic school far surpasses CCD as a means of teaching the faith, it is still what happens at home that makes the difference. There are many children whom I see at school all week but who are never at Sunday Mass. Their families consider themselves Catholic but do not really know what it means to be Catholic. Even if the school can teach these children the formal content of the Catholic Faith, the school can rarely compensate for a family that is not living that faith at home.

    And even in the best of circumstances, with the most ideal of families, the school can only present the Faith on a level appropriate to the age of the child. One of the greatest lessons any Catholic school must teach is the importance of continuing to study the Faith as adults.

  • Guest

    Fr Henry,

    I know it is out of fashion, but does anyone preach that it is a mortal sin to miss mass on Sunday any more? Our beloved church is a bit too far to the feminine today, I think. I would love to hear once from the pulpit “Here are the rules of mother church… Hell awaits those who choose not to go to mass! It is your responsibility to educate your children in the faith and God will hold you accountable if you do not!

    I guess what I am saying is yes the things that you say are true across the board in most churches. I want more priests to tell it like it is. With love of course:^)

    May God bless you and your ministry. May the Mother of God hold you up and defend you in battle with the evil one. May you be filled with the Holy Spirit and lead you flock home.

    Thank you for giving your life to God.

    The study of God is a study of Love

  • Guest

    Hear, hear, Minardi –

    – there are a few hundred of us around here who join you to praise God for the lives given over to us and our service by Father Henry and other unsung heroes in our Church ordained.

    Thanks, Father Henry, and all you pastors who just stop in to look around here, and post nothing. Thank you from the bottom of many posters’ and many families’ hearts . . .

    I can imagine how your hearts sink or rise with the fortunes of your very schools, hearts anxiously in love with the children within, and with your families who depend upon the schools.

    God bless you and keep you forever.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    It looks like there’s a slight mis-quote or typo in Mr. Suprenant’s article. The document he quotes actually says that we parents should send our children to “Catholic schools” where possible, not just “schools.”

    The question in today’s world is this: What constitutes a “Catholic school”? If all the textbooks at a parish school are secular, and the teachers are openly living lives contrary to the teaching of the Church, is the parish school truly a Catholic school?

    I only have one child left in high school, but I’ve run the gamut of educational options: parish school, independent Catholic school, Catholic home school, charter school, and public school. I had to look at what was best for each child at each stage of their education.

    It’s true that we are our children’s primary educators. Sometimes that means we are the sole educator, and sometimes that means we partner with others. Of greatest importance, we must never abdicate this most precious responsibility.

    May God bless all our families.


  • Guest

    No, the quote is correct – it is “Catholic schools” where possible.
    But your point is very good. The quote is from the pope. World-wide application. Here in the US, “Catholic school” can be in name-only, and is not the intent of the pope. But where there is a good Catholic option, we should do what we can to send our children there. The point of the article and the discussions IS that Catholic in name-only just doesn’t cut it.

  • Guest

    Hello Ipioch,

    Just to make clear, here’s a cut-and-paste from the article:
    “Catholic parents are reminded of their duty to send their children to schools wherever this is possible …”

    Here’s a cut-and-paste from the Vatican website version of the document:
    “The Council also reminds Catholic parents of the duty of entrusting their children to Catholic schools wherever and whenever it is possible …”

    Please note that the article says “to schools” and the Vatican website says “to Catholic schools.”

    I presume that this is a simple problem of different translations floating around, or perhaps even a typo. Of course, the meanings are quite different, which is why I wanted to make sure to post the original wording. (I hope no offense is given. I have the highest respect for Leon Suprenant — we even grew up in the same corner of country!)

  • Guest

    oops…that was my mistake.
    I had “read” Leon’s article to say “send their children to Catholic schools wherever this is possible” – a case of my own adding in words that weren’t there. But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt (’cause I am sure it was a simple accidental omission) since the Vatican document is more specific.
    But you’re right. For want of 1 simple word, the meaning is entirely changed!

  • Guest

    Give each of your kids a fiver, a ticket to Chicago and let Pristinus Sapienter have them for a semester of being ‘grandchilded’.

    How will I feed them all? Why, on Christ first, and we’ll pot-luck the rest, of His graces, along the way.

    I’d give them my very best, and I still would be the one who’d get the most out of it.

    The fiver? Gotta send Mom a souvenir . . .

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    The misquote in the article has been fixed.

  • Guest

    I think part of the problem is Catholic schools who now have a majority of non-Catholic teachers in the classroom. While they might teach the prayers and even catechism, how can a non-Catholic teach the Faith with enthusiasm and love for the Church? It is impossible and I do think it is noticed by the children. They don't see persons who respect and love the Faith despite the "Catholic" environment and so the Faith in the children is hurt from it. I also think you can tell if something is wrong with the Catholic school if funding is lacking. If the parish is suffering financially, it may mean that spiritually the parish is suffering too. That is what St. Teresa of Avila said regarding religious orders that were failing. They were not following our Lord, so Jesus did not sustain them and thus they had nuns going to relatives homes to eat because their own convent was so poor. The Discalced Carmelite monasteries in her day never suffered want because they were faithful to Christ.  I think this should teach parishes a lesson and Catholic schools. If they are suffering financially there must be something wrong with them spiritually.


    Of course, there are times when our Lord may allow a parish or school to struggle as part of carrying His Cross.  How one may discern what is actually happening takes serious prayer and open spiritual eyes.


    Peace of Christ everyone.

  • Guest

    A conundrum:

    If the Catholic schools are not robustly teaching the faith  — and many are not, for reasons already mentioned — for many devout Catholic families that means homeschooling; for others that means sending them to a public school with the knowledge that they are being presented an education from a secular worldview.  But if the committed Catholic families do not send their children to the Catholic school, then the task of making them better becomes much more difficult.

    I don't know the answer.  To paraphrase Bishop Fulton Sheen, I'd rather have a child go to a government school and have to defend their faith then go to a Catholic school and lose it.

    While on active duty, we saw many different Catholic schools, but nearly every single one of them used the same text books as the public school with a secular worldview.  We have to combat that, since it assumes without question that our modern accomplishments and discoveries have all come about from human achievement and not from God. 

    Religion in most Catholic schools is a separate class and grows more and more separate from the rest of what the children are learning.  Many teachers will not make any connections in, say math class or history class, with the Catholic faith.  The children never get any connection between the Catholic faith and reason.

  • Guest

    I do wish I could send my children to our local Catholic School.  If I had more money it would be an easier decision.  But, I'd really be scraping it and on top of that we would be asked to do many fund raisers and give of our time.  That would leave precious little time to then make sure my kids were not getting confused in the faith. 

    I will do my best to inform my parish of the reasons why I cannot send my children to their school.  Up to this point, I did not even think of informing them because I saw it as a waste.  I truly saw it as thinking Catholic Schools should die out because they do not provide the truth but just a prep school.  I felt that the best answer was to let it die and then later rise again with the truth.  Catholic Schooling has very little attraction to me.  I am sorry to admit it but my Catholic education has pierced my heart.  It provides a well prepared academic child with a weak faith.  It almost sets them up to be picked off by Evangelicals who have been trained to go after Catholics.

    I went from loving Catholic schools, so much so that as a teenager I spent my minimum wage earned money, and left my friends behind to attend a Catholic High School,  to hating it because it is a well funded force that destroys Catholic faith.  I pray that Catholic Schools return to the truth.  I love my Catholic faith but the education system it has allowed to collapse around it, is destroying it from the inside.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    And there is still the secular worldview in the textbooks to deal with.

    Catholic does not equate to "college prep."  And shouldn't.