Classroom, Notre Dame School, Greenwich Village, NY

Classroom, Notre Dame School, Greenwich Village, NY

In “For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis” in today’s New York Times, reporters Paul Vitello and Winnie Hu write about the steady decline in enrollment that Catholic schools are experiencing–“more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.” They add:

“A series of major studies in the past few years, including one by the White House Domestic Policy Council, have described the dwindling presence of parochial schools as a crisis not just for Catholics but for society.

The losses have already been deeply felt in impoverished urban neighborhoods, where parochial schools have attracted poor and minority students — including non-Catholics — seeking havens of safety and order from troubled public schools. Roughly 20 percent of parochial school students are not Catholic, according to experts.”

I think this issue goes beyond the priest scandals. One reader commented on the NYT’s site: “It is well established that abuse of children is no more common among Catholic priests than ministers and rabbis, but the centralized Catholic system makes it more vulnerable to crippling lawsuits.” Other readers’ posts discuss possible reasons for decreasing enrollment, including financial woes, Americans’ break with the Vatican, marketing, declining number of people entering the priesthood or becoming nuns, etc. In the end, I think it’s some mix of all of the above.

My mother couldn’t afford to send me to private school in Manhattan, but Catholic school was better than going to public schools in the sixties and seventies. I’m a lapsed Catholic–a status I had pretty much by high school–but greatly appreciate the education I received. My last grade school lacked good faculty, but my high school was a superb nurturing environment. In fact, Notre Dame nearly shut down in the late eighties, but ended up selling its Upper West Side property (for a retirement fund for aging sisters) and relocating to Greenwich Village. With the help of alumnae, teachers and parents, the school found a way for it to continue operating. The grade school was run by a parish, while the h.s. was run by an order of nuns. I wonder whether that made a difference.

I’ll have to consider that question and others some more. What do you think?

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