by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week’s Leaven include an article about the remarkable success of this year’s Gaudeamus dinner sponsored by the Catholic Education Foundation.
More than 1,400 individuals attended the event at the Overland Park Convention Center and raised more than $1 million to provide scholarships that make it possible for children to attend our Catholic schools.
CEF provides scholarships to selected Catholic elementary schools who are serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. In addition to CEF scholarships, our parishes also subsidize significantly their parochial schools, in effect, providing a scholarship to every student. Moreover, our non-CEF schools also provide financial aid to families who struggle to pay the full tuition for their children.
All of our Catholic high schools provide a significant amount of tuition assistance to families, e.g., several of our secondary schools provide more than a million dollars of financial aid annually and the others grant scholarships totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to this, every parish in the archdiocese contributes to a youth formation assessment, which, in addition to funding youth programs in the Wyandotte and the rural regions, provides annually $350,000 of additional financial aid for Catholic high school students.
Over the past two years, I have been soliciting major gifts for a private appeal for our Catholic high schools to raise money to reduce the debts at St. James Academy (by $6 million) and Hayden High School in Topeka (by $1.5 million) and to help build an endowment at Bishop Ward High School ($5 million). To date, we have raised $12.3 million toward a goal of $14 million. The purpose of the campaign is to help keep these schools economically affordable, so that their debt obligations do not have to be retired through higher tuition, or, in Bishop Ward’s case, so that endowment income can help keep tuition lower.
Many individuals in our Catholic community are striving mightily to make certain that finances are not an obstacle for any family desiring a Catholic education for their children. This is not to minimize the sacrifices parents are making to do their part in funding our Catholic schools. The financial model to sustain
our Catholic schools requires sacrifices by parishes and parents as well as the generosity of benefactors, like those who contributed to the success of Gaudeamus.
It troubles me that, despite these efforts, a significant number of parents who can afford to pay the required tuition for our schools or could afford the tuition after receiving financial
aid, are choosing not to send their children to a Catholic school. Of course, I am not talking about those places in the archdiocese where, unfortunately, Catholic schools are not geographically accessible. Nor I am talking about children with special needs that our schools may not be equipped to serve well. Although with our Perfect Wings program, we are able to accommodate the majority of special needs children.
Some parents are choosing government schools because they prefer their facilities, their academics, their athletics and/or their extracurricular programs.
In part, some are choosing government schools because avoiding Catholic school tuition increases the family’s discretionary income. In effect, these families are choosing material things over receiving help with the religious formation of their children.
Our Catholic schools have a long history of academic excellence. Our athletic teams generally do very well. Yet, academics or discipline — and certainly athletics — are not reasons to choose a Catholic school. Nor is a Catholic school just about receiving religious instruction during one class period each day. Our Catholic schools have worked hard to connect how what we believe as Catholics impacts how we read literature, the music we compose, the art we create, the lessons derived from scientific inquiry, our understanding of history, social studies, philosophy, anthropology, etc.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, the president of Donnelly College, in an address he gave recently to Catholic high school presidents, principals, and board members, made the point that only our Catholic schools are free to speak about the most important matters. It is only in Catholic schools or other private schools that we can talk about God, faith, morality, the purpose of life, and life after this world. It is only in religious schools that children have the freedom and the opportunity to pray.
The Catholic schools were started in this country, in part, because at the time public (government) schools were anti-Catholic. In the 19th century and well into the 20th century, most public schools actually taught a Protestant worldview. Since the latter part of the 20th century, government schools have become increasingly secularized. They do not teach Catholic children a competing faith, but they have become so sanitized from any expression of faith that they form young people to be skeptical of any faith claims.
This is not to imply that there are not exceptional women and men of faith who are principals and teachers in public schools, but they are prohibited from sharing their faith in the classroom, the counseling office, the athletic field or the theater.
Understandably, we do not want government-run schools teaching a particular brand of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. Yet, in an effort to teach no particular faith, they actually evangelize young people to the fastest growing denomination in America — no religious affiliation. Government schools foster an agnosticism that basically holds if there is a God, it does not matter and is irrelevant to our lives.
Our parishes work hard to provide high quality school of religion programs. However, it is simply not possible to teach adequately the faith in one hour a week, no matter how great the program and how talented the catechist.
Parents are the primary teachers of the faith to their children, regardless if a child is in a Catholic school or not. Our Catholic schools can provide incredible support to parents in passing the faith on to their children. Parents who choose not to send
their children to a Catholic school must be committed essentially to home school their children in the faith.
Catholic schools require significant sacrifice on the part of the entire Catholic community — pastors, principals, teachers, parents, and parishioners. I believe our children are well worth the sacrifice.