Catholic schools have been a staple of our country and communities for over 200 years. The first Catholic school in the United States was created by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Maryland in 1809. It is crucial for us to understand the history, role and challenges of our Catholic schools. My hope with this blog is to educate you about Catholic schools, challenging us to better understand the role of Catholic education and engage in a conversation on how to strengthen our Catholic schools.
It is important to have a grasp on the history of Catholic schools in our country. Here is a brief history with key events:
During the mid 1800s, more and more immigrants were crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come to America. Many of these immigrants were trying to find a new home and a new opportunity for their family. In the United States there was a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in the community and specifically in the schools. Public schools viewed their role as educating young children and also helping them to assimilate into our country but also learn about the Protestant faith. Of course this didn’t sit well with Catholic families, priests and community members. Specifically in 1875 the United States passed the Blaine Amendment which didn’t allow any government money to be used in a non-public school. The Blaine Amendment was aimed directly at Catholic schools and was the government’s way to try and eliminate Catholic schools.
During this time, the United States Catholic Church was growing and responding to the ever changing political landscape. The Catholic Church called three national meetings for all Bishops to be held in Baltimore in 1852, 1866 and 1884, which was called the Council of Baltimore. These meetings discussed various aspects of the faith and Catholic education. There were a few key agreements/requirements passed at the Council of Baltimore:
- 1852: Bishops are strongly encouraged to have a Catholic school in every parish
- 1866: Every parish should have a school
- 1866: Parents should make every effort to send their children to Catholic schools, if they are unable or choose not to, then those children must participate in faith formation at the parish.
- 1884: Every parish is required to have a school.
After the meetings in Baltimore, priests went back to their home parishes and started creating and building Catholic schools. Many times when a new parish was created in a new community a school was built first and then a church was built. Enrollment grew during the early and mid 1900s. The peak enrollment for Catholic schools was in the 1960s with roughly 5.5 million students attending the schools. Now we have 1.8 million students attending Catholic school in the United States. Obviously there has been a decrease in enrollment, and that has been for many reasons.
What challenges do you think our Catholic schools face today? In my next blog I will discuss some of those issues our principals, teachers, staff, pastors and parents have to deal with in the 21st century.