Leaders of Catholic elementary and high schools gathered at Fordham to discuss the problems facing Catholic education and chart a way forward.
They focused on best practices, learned about alternative educational models and traded ideas at “Educating Together in Catholic Schools,” a symposium on May 29 sponsored by the Graduate School of Education (GSE).
The day opened with an address by Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. His remarks were based on “Educating Together in Catholic Schools: a Shared Mission between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful,” which his office released in 2007.
The document seeks to strengthen Catholic schools during a time of great demographic shifts—among both teachers and students.
“Even as Catholic schools’ market share has declined in the past 35 years, they still provide a quality education for millions of children of various ethnic and social backgrounds,” Cardinal Grocholewski said. “We are the disciples who are called on to decide if this document is to take root in our schools.”
Lay teachers now make up nearly 96 percent of the educators working in Catholic schools in the United States. By comparison, lay teachers were only 8 percent of the teaching corps in 1960.
Although nearly 7,400 elementary and secondary schools enrolled more than 2.2 million students in the fall of 2007, 1,300 Catholic schools have closed or been consolidated since 1990, contributing to a loss of more than 300,000 students, Most of the school closures have taken place in large urban areas.
Karen Ristau, Ed.D., president of the National Catholic Educational Association, recalls being one of the few lay teachers in her local elementary school in the 1970s.
“There was a sense I got [from the sisters]that ‘Well, there aren’t enough of us, so we guess you’ll have to do,’” Ristau said. “Today the feeling is more like, ‘Thank God for you; you are carrying out our mission.’”
Ristau cheered the “Educating Together in Catholic Schools” document, and focused on its call for instructors to achieve excellence in both academics and church teachings.
“In the Catholic school, these two parts are interwoven and we need to be proficient at both,” she said. “In that way, the school can be a witness to God’s love among us.”
Presenting an alternative approach to Catholic education was Monsignor John W. Jordan, executive director of the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools. The network runs schools in inner cities that occupy students for more then nine hours each day and provide them with three meals.
More than 40 of the 64 Nativity Miguel schools have opened since 2000.
Msgr. Jordan pointed to the network’s unique approach to fund-raising to explain its success. Because only five percent of the schools’ operating expenses come from tuition, even the poorest families can afford the $469 it costs to send their children to school.
To pay for the average cost per student of $14,295, the network raised $51,557,446 in fiscal year 2006-2007 through philanthropic contributions.