At the end of January each year the Catholic Church in America for the most part quietly celebrates National Catholic Schools Week.
For some, the mention of Catholic schools evokes fond memories of days gone by. For some, the memories are not so fond, and for a large portion of the population, those memories do not exist because they did not attend a Catholic school. Yet, this celebration is more than just about “my” school or even “my” experience; it is about the history of the catholic educational heritage in America.
Many people forget that Catholic schools started as a response to preserve our faith tradition at a time when Christian doctrine was taught in all public schools and some of that doctrine contradicted what Catholics believed and in many cases was downright hostile to Catholics as a whole. Further, as immigrants came to this country, Catholic schools served as a way of preserving a particular culture while offering a younger generation an educational opportunity to achieve the American dream their parents came to this country to provide.
These immigrants quickly learned that in this country, education was essential if they were going to break the cycle of poverty that was being forced on Catholics due to prejudice based on their nationalities and their faith tradition.
As a result, Catholic schools began to spring up throughout our country providing opportunities to many people. St. Katherine Drexel used her own family money to open Xavier University in New Orleans as the first college in America for African-American students, for example. This further enhanced a nationwide movement to educate children from first grade through college.
Like every institution there have been problems, but individual cases of failure should never override the success that is the legacy of Catholic schools. Recently, though, for various reasons, we have seen a dramatic and painful decline in Catholic schools. In the past few years alone in the Downriver area we have seen eight Catholic schools close due to lack of enrollment. That adds to the number of schools that have closed in the past at such parishes as St. Henry, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Francis Xavier, all the parishes of Wyandotte, Sacred Heart Grosse Ile, St. Cyprian, St. Paschal, St. Alfred, St. Cyril, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Timothy in Trenton.
The schools that remain, though, are vibrant places of education and faith formation. We should be proud of the educational contribution of our schools at St. Pius, John Paul II, St. Joseph and St. Frances Cabrini as well as our two high schools, Gabriel Richard and Cabrini High School. Under the direction of excellent principals and highly qualified and certified teachers, these schools continue to grow and foster a healthy and faith-filled educational environment.
That is why I want to encourage all people, especially those who have benefited from a Catholic educational experience, to financially support our schools and just as importantly to encourage others to attend the schools that we are fortunate to have. Every one of our schools has room available and will have upcoming open houses for you to walk through and see what we have to offer. All of our schools have websites that provide you with all the information you need, and we will be more than
happy to answer your questions about registration for next year.
As we celebrate National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 27 to Feb. 2), I hope that we can move beyond just seeing these schools as athletic rivals or a challenge to public education. I hope that we can see them for what they are: a part of our national history and an integral part to the important work of educating our children.
(The Rev. Joseph Mallia is pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park. He can be reached at 313-381-5601.)