Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Why Catholic schools?
by Duane F. Schafer, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The new school year will begin again for most of our Catholic school students in Eastern Washington on Sept. 2. Why does the Catholic Church continue to sponsor a Catholic school system? Have you ever thought about sending your child or grandchild to a Catholic school? Why do people send their children to a Catholic school today?
The very first Catholic school of record in the territory to become the United States was founded by the Franciscans in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1606, “to teach the children Christian doctrine, reading, and writing.” Throughout history Catholic schools have been established as parochial schools, private schools, or diocesan schools. More typically, however, elementary and even secondary schools were part of individual parishes. Those schools served a valuable purpose as a focus and support for new immigrants. Traditionally these parish or parochial schools were led and staffed by clergy and members of Religious congregations of women and men. Parents paid little or no tuition. The Religious faculty received a small stipend for their services.
Many of these experiences of Catholic schools are no longer true. Today, the majority of the Catholic schools are staffed by lay teachers and principals, and almost all Catholic schools charge tuition. During the 2002-2003 school year, there were a total of 163,004 educational professionals staffing the Catholic schools throughout the United States. Approximately 94 percent of these educators were laity. With a change from Religious to lay faculties, it has become imperative that schools increase their income levels so that they are able to provide just compensation to these dedicated women and men.
The schools are no longer exclusively serving an immigrant population; they are no longer staffed by groups of Religious women and men; they are no longer free. So why should you consider sending your child to a Catholic school?
The Catholic schools of today continue to be effective evangelization and educational instruments within our Church. In their document “To Teach as Jesus Did,” the bishops of the United States wrote, “Of the educational programs available to the Catholic community, Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the threefold purpose of Christian education among children and young people.”
Today’s Catholic schools are certainly different from the Catholic schools of the past, but in some respects they may be even better. When I ask parents why they choose a Catholic school for their children, I receive a variety of responses: high academic achievement; a safe and structured environment; a sense of community and belonging; the desire to teach their children the basic beliefs, values, and traditions of our Catholic faith.
There are two decades of research that affirm that Catholic schools do make a difference in the lives of the children who attend them. Over and over, the research supports the fact that Catholic school students score higher on standardized achievement tests than public school students. Catholic school students are more likely to complete high school and attend and complete college than public school students.
Although not as much research exists regarding the religious outcomes of Catholic schools, a 1999 study noted that attending a Catholic school is the greatest predictor of strong religious knowledge.” Catholic schools not only teach basic religious knowledge, but they teach it within a moral framework. Catholic schools help parents form their children to become the strong moral leaders of tomorrow. Our children are our future leaders. They are our future civic leaders and our future church leaders. It is imperative that they not only be educated in the basic skills, but more importantly, be formed as strong Catholic Christian adult leaders, leaders who strive to serve others and bring about peace and justice in our world. Our Diocesan School Mission Statement affirms, “Our schools make available a Catholic education to all who desire it and strive to educate, evangelize and form globally responsive servant leaders, in light of Gospel values.”
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of a Catholic school education for your child, please call the Diocesan School Office at 358-7330 or 1-800-831-1768. Information about the schools is available as well on the diocese’s web site: www.dioceseofspokane.org/Schools/Index.htm
(Duane Shafer is superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Spokane.)