Whether you ask in India or in the Middle East or in Africa regarding the best education available in those areas, they will most likely respond: The Catholics. Try in Europe or in South America, either in the developed world or the developing world, and ask the same question, you’ll most likely get the same answer: Catholic Schools. The reputation that Catholic Education has on a global level is phenomenal.
Part of the reason is that we have always valued learning in the Catholic Church. The monasteries kept civilization going in the Middle Ages. The first great universities were founded by the Church: Oxford, Bologna, Paris. One of the greatest libraries in the world is in the Vatican. We have the most teaching orders of any religion in the world, foremost among these are the Jesuits who made education the center of their apostolate. Even in this Protestant country of ours, Jesuit universities and colleges like Boston College, Georgetown, and Fordham are top ranked places of learning.
When in the last century some members of other Christian denominations tried to infiltrate the Catholic Religion in this country through indoctrinating Catholic Children in free Public Schools, the Church responded with the Catholic School system that placed education at the very center of American Catholic life.
When God is at the heart of the search for knowledge, amazing things happen! God gives meaning and purpose to every search, even science and math. You may say that they have nothing to do with God or Theology, but is not science the study of God’s creation? And who is the greatest mathematician of all time? God, of course! God actually created Math!
When we look at the proper development of a child, spiritual development is the most important factor. But it is seldom acknowledged to be such by parents. They tend to be interested in a Catholic school as an alternative learning experience for their child. They want their child to have the best educational preparation available and are willing to sacrifice financially for that. That is a very good thing; but making the child a better and more educated Catholic is often not voiced as a reason for entry into a Catholic institution.
A religious institution like a Catholic School can mention something that public schools are forbidden to talk about: God. This is particularly ‘transgressive’ in our militantly atheistic culture.
When I was in Catholic School, the cultural situation was very different. There was no tuition and it was very hard to get a child into a Catholic School. There were lots of children from two parent families that went to Church each Sunday. My parents, to keep me in the school, had to ‘volunteer’ to help the parish in something. My Dad was a member of the Nocturnal Adoration Society and every First Friday spent an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament (I think it was from 2 AM to 3 AM, yes, in the morning!). My Mom helped to make pizzas for Bingo nights.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame had given up having their own families and took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in order to teach me. There was an alliance between the Sisters and my parents to make sure that I became a good Catholic. That was the first and greatest aim. My parents were not alone in this. This understanding was common among all the families in the school.
You had to be dedicated to your faith to really ‘make it’ in a Catholic School.
The world has changed. Faith is not as important to most people as it used to be, regrettably. This is reflected in what parents are looking for in a school. Add this to the general breakdown in families as evidenced in a 50% divorce rate among Catholics and you begin to see that, when one says ‘Catholic Education’, one is talking about something radically different than in the 1950’s.
So, culture is different, families are more embattled, and the vocation crisis in the Church has emptied the novitiates and seminaries as possible feeders for Catholic School educators. Things have therefore gotten very expensive for parents even when the salaries of our teachers are much lower than those in public education.
But these same Catholic Academies and Schools still are the only scholastic institutions that educate the whole child: physically, psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. It values the child as being created by God Himself and showers upon the youngster a tradition of love and learning that is still unparalleled in this country or in any country.
We are so proud to say that our Academy (now in its 96th year) is one of two schools in our diocese headed by a religious: Brother Joseph Rocco, a Sacred Heart Brother and an alumnus. We are going to emphasize what the purpose of Catholic Education is: The Spiritual Development of the whole child. Going back to our roots!