Alumni need to step forward to support Catholic schools Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

editor's view

The start of the new school year is just around the corner. Soon over two million children will be going back to school at over 7,000 Catholic elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States.

The past year (2008-2009) saw a 3.5 percent decrease in enrollment in Catholic schools in our country, according to figures released by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). There were 78,382 fewer students than the previous academic year.

Good news and bad news

There was some good news and bad news. On the plus side, 31 new Catholic schools opened last year. However, 162 schools were closed or consolidated.

“Sadly, these school closings mean that many students will be deprived of the qualities that have marked Catholic education through the years: a dedication to faith, academics, and morals,” commented NCEA President Karen Ristau.

In the past decade it has become increasingly difficult for dioceses and parishes to provide the substantial financial assistance required to keep Catholic schools open, especially continuing to provide modest tuition levels and reasonable compensation for teachers.

Yet, Catholic schools are more important than ever. “Parents definitely want a faith-based education for their children during these turbulent times,” said Ristau.

Top-notch education in academics and faith

Catholic schools do indeed provide a top-notch education in both academics and the faith. I count myself among those fortunate to experience a Catholic education at the grade school and high school levels.

I definitely had an excellent academic education. Catholic schools certainly continue that tradition. Catholic students still score much higher than their public school counterparts in reading and math scores. SAT scores for students attending religious schools continue to top those attending public schools.

But perhaps more important, students at Catholic schools receive a faith-based education. They learn about the teachings of the Catholic Church and how to live that faith in their daily lives through moral values and service. They see the witness of committed Catholic teachers throughout the school day.

Catholic school alumni have graduated from colleges and technical school; had successful careers; and have chosen vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, and married life.

Alumni must step forward

What can be done to ensure that Catholic schools stay open and continue to provide an excellent education in academics and faith in the future? I think the answer must come from adults stepping forward to support Catholic education, especially those who have themselves been educated in Catholic schools.

These alumni should be among those who help support today’s Catholic schools. This means not only the schools they attended, but other Catholic schools, too.

“If the millions of adults who have benefited from Catholic education in the past would step forward financially to help the next generation, we could prevent the closing of more schools in the future,” said NCEA’s Ristau.

She is right. We alumni must consider how we can help support Catholic schools with our time, talent, and treasure.  Most schools have Web sites, so it should be easy to reach them. In the Diocese of Madison, go to the diocesan Web site at (click on schools) for more information. Also see diocesan Superintendent Michael Lancaster’s article in this week’s Catholic Herald to find out how you can be involved in the diocesan Catholic school planning process now underway.