The emergence of evangelical Christian schools in recent years demonstrates what the Catholic Church has known for centuries: When it comes to imparting faith and Gospel values, there is no substitute for 30-plus hours in the classroom each week.
The United States has never been without Catholic education. The first Catholic school in America was founded in the early 17th century, and parochial schools were established in the early 19th century as a response to a hostile culture. But recently, enrollment has declined by half from its peak of more than 5 million students in the 1960s.
Challenges to maintaining our schools abound, but the irreplaceable value of Catholic education remains.
If you doubt that Catholic schools bring children into deeper communion with Jesus and his church, consider this. Only 5 percent of millennials who never attended a Catholic school go to Mass weekly, compared to more than a third who attended Catholic primary schools. The number is even higher (nearly 40 percent) for those who attended Catholic secondary schools, according to a 2014 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
The impact of Catholic school attendance on reception of the sacraments and vocations to the priesthood and religious life is even more dramatic.
As a church, we’re struggling at present to keep Catholic education accessible, especially for young people living in poverty, but it would be difficult to exaggerate the long-term benefits of Catholic schools to the body of Christ. Even if we don’t have children or grandchildren enrolled, we all have a stake in the success of the 22,000 students returning to Catholic schools in our archdiocese this month.
A lot has changed over the past four centuries, but the need for Catholic education to nurture faith in a culture often hostile to religion remains. If you love the church, support Catholic schools. They may be our most effective tools for evangelization.
Greg Magnoni was the founding editor and associate publisher of Northwest Catholic until 2018.