Tuesday, March 26, 2019



I am beginning to question the need for Catholic schools, not so much because we need them, yes we do, but because the ethos of having them has changed so much over the years, that so many who use them are using them for the wrong reasons and the ones who need to be using them can't afford them.

My former parish in Macon had a Catholic elementary school. When I got there, it was pre-K through 6th grade. The private Catholic School there decided that year to add a 6th grade to their school and desired that our parochial school relinquish the 6th grade to them as had been done decades earlier with the 7th and 8th grade. As the new pastor, I dug in my heels and kept the 6th grade.

When I got there in 2004 we may have had about 360 kids enrolled in the school. But over the course of years, that number kept declining. It must be kept in mind that Macon's population has been declining consistently over the years since that time too.

From what I understand, in the next academic year there will be only one class of each grade instead of the two sections it has had for decades. Enrollment is down to about 180.

This is my personal opinion. While subsidies are given to families who qualify, it is still very, very expensive to send a child, let alone multiple children, to a Catholic School. The rich have options, not only with Catholics schools but other private schools be these religious or non-sectarian.

An example for the rich was present at St. Joseph. Our 6th grade tuition in 2016 was a little less than $5000 for active parishioners. Yet some pulled their kids from our school and placed them in the private Catholic school's 6th grade which was twice as much. Yet, many of my parishioners couldn't send their kids to our school for the $5,000 rate let alone twice that much.

The rich also would enroll their kids in other private schools who had tuition around $12,000 for pre-k through 12th! That is indeed a luxury.

So my question is this, how in the name of God and all that is holy can we win back Catholics who have multiple children who would like Catholic education but can't afford it? How do we get homeschoolers to consider their parish's Catholic school and apart from tuition reason, don't want to sent their kids to a public or Catholic school.

What's wrong with Catholic schools and parishes when there are an abundant of children available for our schools but those who need them won't use them?

I ask; you answer.


TJM said...

My territorial parish's grade school is a breeding ground for heresy. It might be better to send your kids to a public or non-sectarian school and train them in the Faith yourself. St. Pius X said it was the primary responsibility of the parent to train their children in the Catholic Faith.

Anonymous 2 said...

Are you sure that is a new student and not part of the skeleton staff due to the reduced number of students?

Seriously, though, I am very glad you dug your heels in to keep the 6th grade at the Elementary School. Our son had a great education there and at the Catholic School for the higher grades. Other than recommending both schools to parents every chance I get, I don’t have any good answers for your questions but will think some more about it. One thing does occur to me already, however. I know of at least one family with several children who could not afford the tuition but, if I recall correctly, they received financial assistance from the School. We should do whatever we can to expand the funds available for such assistance.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The other model that can be effective, but the entire parish has to be on board, is tuition through tithing which means no tuition! While it has its drawbacks (abuse of the system) St. Mary on the Hill in Augusta (which is a wealthy parish) has a completely subsidized elementary school, pre-K through 8th. The entire parish is asked to tithe through stewardship, but those sending their kids to the parish school are required to tithe 8% of their income to the parish and their giving is examined regularly in order to keep the tuition free privilege.

Of course the other option is to have a school where there are a majority of sisters or brothers in religious life teaching and they are under the vow of poverty which enables salaries to be kept to a minimum and tuition lower. Of course, that is Gone with the Wind too.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Asking, "What's wrong with Catholic schools and parishes when there are an abundant of children available for our schools but those who need them won't use them?" is not, I suggest, the right question.

The schools I am familiar with offer solid faith formation in a Catholic ethos and superb academics. Just today my high school, Benedictine Military School in Savannah, announced that 17 seniors have been accepted by the University of Georgia and eleven have been accepted by Georgia Tech. Benedictine has, I think, one senior going to West Point, one to the Naval Academy, and one to the Air Force Academy.

Children from our parochial elementary school are high achievers at both Benedictine, the boys' high school, and St. Vincent's Academy, the girls' high school.

The "ethos" that has changed is - I know I am sounding like a broken record here - described in Robert Bellah's book, "Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life." What has changed in American (and probably most western cultures) is the idea of commitment. Many people do not commit themselves - "put themselves out" - for lasting values, but prefer the ephemeral and the short-lived values of pleasure and entertainment.

The question is "What's wrong with our culture when people choose that which is temporary and material as the most important values in their lives?"

Gene Williams said...

Kavanaugh is right on...except I don't even think the majority actually choose. There is no act of will among most people today...they just happen into things, follow the herd, and are carried along by advertising and media.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Gene, I agree. It is very hard to step out of the crowd and act independently. Going along with the flow is a part of our nature.

Jesus, when he confronted those accusing the woman caught in adultery said, "Let the ONE among you who is without sin cast the first stone." No one could leave the group - the mob mentality was too strong.

That being said, I don't entirely fault parents for making the choices they do for what they think is the best for their children. Our task is to reinforce the understanding that a very good education in a Catholic school is worth choosing even if a minimally superior academic institution is available.

The real rub comes when the minimally superior education is available in a "free" public school. I understand the financial pressures parents live with. It is the sacrificial aspect of choosing Catholic education that eludes many.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The elephant in the room is the shift from the charisma that religious brought to Catholic schools, private and parochial, being replaced with a laity’s business model and marketing Catholic schools in order to sell them not only to Catholics but non Catholics, who in a parochial setting pay a much higher tuition.

There is a general trend towards consumerism in Catholic parishes and schools. At one time, Catholics had to attend the school in their parish or if the parish had no school, they were assigned a school they could attend. It wasn’t their choice.

The other major shift related to a consumer mentality is the level of commitment that parents who use our schools have toward the Church in gen and their parish in particular. In the early 1980’s most Catholic School parents were the ones most engaged in their parishes, Sunday Mass, other ministries, support. That has changed dramatically where many Catholic parents no longer attend Mass or bring their children to Sunday Mass.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Charism not charisma, dang that spell check!

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Yes, there are few religious sisters teaching in our schools. But, I don't think families chose Catholic schools because religious were teaching in them. If you sent your kids to Catholic schools, they had religious teachers by default.

Commitment is the key. Parents commit to the schools that give them, in their judgment, the biggest bang for their bucks. That is the "consumerism" mentality. Again, our task is to encourage parents to understand the value of a Catholic school precisely because it is Catholic. That "bang" should be a major factor in their decision making.

The general trend toward consumerism is not caused by the Church or the schools. It is a reality in our culture, the sources of which are, I think, pretty well understood.

We know we have to compete academically and, in the great majority of cases we do. Like it or not, we have to "sell" this academic aspect to parents, and we do.

Virginia SoCon said...


I think that in order to answer your question you need to look at the schools that do have lots of large families and homeschoolers/former homeschoolers and ask, "What is different about that school?" (Just as people should look at parishes and dioceses with a disproportionate number of vocations given their size and ask, "What is different about that parish/diocese?")

Where I live, there is a K-8 school run by the Nashville Dominicans. It is wonderful and I have nothing bad to say about the sisters. However, the school is expensive and does not have a tuition cap for a family with multiple kids enrolled. Many of the families are there for the rigorous Catholic academic environment but merely tolerate the religious aspect. Few large families send their children there; instead, most homeschool.

Contrast that with a grades 7-12 private Catholic school in the area which is fully enrolled and has tons of large families, many of whom homeschool until their child is in 7th grade. (When I mention large families, 5-6 kids is probably the median. I would venture that there are as many families with 10+ kids as with 2 kids or fewer; not that fertility equals holiness. However, it shows the popularity with large families, which is Father's question.)

This school is proudly and unapologetically Catholic and rooted in the traditional Catholic philosophy that the purpose of a Catholic education is to teach kids to seek Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Despite it's small size and very limited resources, the school boasts impressive academic, athletic, and arts opportunities. The tuition is half of that of diocesan high schools, and yes, it has a family tuition cap. It requires families to provide service to the school through donations of time or items needed by the school, and many families volunteer far beyond that requirement. All coaches are volunteers, even the one that has coached and developed multiple All-American athletes during his tenure.

Why do large families send their children there? Because they know that faith will be nurtured there, growing deep roots so that they can defend their faith in a hostile world. Large families see the results- alumni who enter seminary and religious communities; alumni who keep their faith even after going to public, private secular, and "catholic" colleges; alumni who discern a call to marriage and who marry in the Church. Yes, perhaps many of these children would have done these things already because of the family environment. But the large families know that the domestic church they have created in their own homes will be complemented by the offerings of this school. That's what attracts the local large, active-in-their-parish Catholic families.

qwikness said...

Macon does have a decrease in population but there are other factors. Too many private schools for one. Five or six private schools not counting MDS plus two or three Catholic elementary schools. Secondly and maybe most importantly, a humongous charter school is taking ALL the best and brightest at no cost. Honestly it seems rigged, even though it is supposed to be a "lottery" This affects all the schools in Macon, public and private. Another factor, Catholics are having less children. Two children per family is not growth, population is down, tuition is up.

Gene said...

Fr. Kavanaugh, Does your second paragraph @ 6:39 imply that there may have been ONE among them that was without sin and who merely chose to remain in the crowd? LOL!

Matthew LaHood said...

They are expensive. I know that it is not within our budget for one child, let alone a family. It seems to me it is likely a result of the decline in vocations and a cyclic one at that. Schools were manned by well-educated priests, brothers, and nuns for basically food and board. This kept prices very low and a high quality education as most religious are well educated in addition to their formation. The schools also created more religious as well. As with time, the religious died out and laity with bills and family’s had to be hired. Less religious are being formed in the schools which continues to drive the issue.