First, Catechize Adults

Deception: Catholic Education In America. By Steve Kellmeyer (Bridegroom Press, P.O. Box 96, Peoria, I11. 61650, 2005), 250 pp. HB $24.95.

(Note: The title has undergone a change since this review was printed. Look for the title Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America.)

Once upon a time in America, parents taught their children at home. They might use governesses, tutors or family members; whoever they used to teach their children, parents were given and took responsibility for their children’s education.

For Catholic children, a large portion of their home-education was devoted to catechism. Sometimes working in conjunction with their parish priest, parents taught their children all facets of the Catholic faith to ensure that their children would be able to pass it on to their children. Parents and parish priests taught the children to embrace their faith and fully accept the sacraments that were appropriate for their age and place on their faith journey.

Compulsory education laws, passed in the United States during the 1800s, took this responsibility away from all parents. Catholic parents lost the opportunity to teach their children at home, to teach their children the Faith. American bishops acted to protect their own. As public schools blossomed, many with a Protestant agenda, the bishops encouraged (and later demanded) the establishment of parochial schools in every diocese in America. Further, the bishops strongly encouraged the American Catholics to send their children to diocesan schools.

In the beginning, these Catholic schools were a pretty good alternative to home catechesis as well as a very good alternative to the public schools. Staffed by religious orders and clergy who had a deep love and understanding of the Catholic faith, lessons were imbued with catechesis. Catholic children learned their faith at school.

Starting in the late 1960s, Catholic schools became less Catholic. Schools were required by law to teach certain subjects and often religion was reduced from the curriculum as secular needs took over. Further, as the number of religious and clergy waned in the schools, lay teachers took over the role of teaching—lay teachers who had been educated in secular universities, with a secular agenda, who may not even be practicing Catholics. Costs of funding parochial schools sky-rocketed as the religious orders and clergy left the schools. Some parents could no longer afford to send children to parochial schools; some parents refused to pay for a secular education when public taxes were paying for (sometimes better) resources at the nearby public school. The parochial system was (and still is) in a downward cycle.

Steve Kellmeyer’s book, Deception: Catholic Education in America, details this decline of Catholicity within Catholic schools—a decline in the curriculum, personnel and attendance of Catholics within the schools. He points out that the last decades of Catholic education have been anything but Catholic. While bishops and parish priests were relying on parochial and private Catholic schools to educate the faithful, while CCD and Religious Education programs were being created, staffed and funded by ever-tightening parish budgets, the faithful were not being educated.

Basically, we have forty years worth of Catholics who have major “holes” in their catechesis. Kellmeyer defines this as the root cause of a decline in orthodoxy within American Catholic parishes. So how do we fix this?

According to Kellmeyer, the solution lies in a re-engineering of Catholic education. Rather than focusing on catechizing children, the focus should be on catechizing adults. Adult faith formation should become the priority in every parish, diocese and archdiocese.

Parish budgets should be reformulated to stress adult education and, if necessary, to take the funds from the parochial school and children’s religious education classes. DREs should be re-trained to teach adults. Education space should be made more like a law office than a kindergarten classroom. Parish education priorities need to shift from Catholic children to Catholic adults.

So, who, in Kellmeyer’s book, should catechize the children?

The parents, through the grace of the sacrament of marriage (and with assistance and direction from the parish priest) should again take over the role of catechesis. Home-schooling parents, who have already started this process in their own homes, should be “leveraged” by the parish to assist with adult faith formation and helping other parents teach their own.

A radical idea? You bet. But, it is also a very reasonable idea when looked at in light of Church documents, papal letters and even documents of the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops. Kellmeyer uses source documents extensively in his book to validate his suggestions.

Deception: Catholic Education in America leaves some questions unanswered such as what you do with the current school infrastructure (students, teachers, and administration) and how long this process should take to implement. Kellmeyer seems to imply that the process should be implemented overnight, but this is not reasonable. However, his ideas and rationale are quite logically described. This book should be read by bishops and parish priests—not only read, but debated as a possible solution to some of the current problems in our current Church.

Mary C. Gildersleeve
Greenville, S.C

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