Resurrecting Catholic Schools

In his unforgettable book Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, Anthony Esolen, with his typical elegance of prose, articulates the dissipation of American culture along with a clarion call to rebuild it. At a key moment in his argument, he highlights the importance of the school. He makes it clear: “We must then build new schools.”1 Although his approach is national and broad in scope, he hints at one subset of these schools: the Catholic school. In a chilling scene of a ghost town that has abandoned its culture, Esolen narrates the following:

Here is a building that used to be a Catholic parochial school. But the order of nuns who used to teach there were infected by a vicious strain of feminism, and the people of the parish could not afford to pay or did not want to pay the salaries of the lay teachers who had to replace them. The school, built by the very hands of the grandfathers of those parishioners, now serves for borough offices, complete with a jail.2

To some extent, we need to echo Esolen: we must then build new Catholic schools. And even where schools hang on with seemingly dying breaths, we must be committed to renew them and resurrect them.

To be sure, not every place in America is starving for Catholic schools, and, fortunately, we have seen a small renaissance in Catholic K-12 life since the COVID pandemic, as some Catholic schools refused to close their doors when other schools did; however, we have not yet escaped all of the “ashes” of the great Catholic school fallout since the Council. At times, the project can seem daunting, even impractical. But despair is never the proper response to the Way of the Cross for a Christian. We are called to go forth and evangelize, and the school is an outstanding instrument of this saving work of God. I agree with Cardinal Dolan: “American Catholic schools need to be unabashedly proud of their proven gritty ability to transmit faith and values to all their students, particularly welcoming the immigrant and the disadvantaged, whose hope for success lies in an education that makes them responsible citizens.”3

How, then, can we rebuild and resurrect our Catholic schools?

Though it may not be without challenge or hardship, the recipe is not that complicated; it is always built on three fundamental and reasonable pillars: mission and leadership, teachers, and sacrifice. I am certain that those parishes and dioceses which focus on these three cannot fail to resurrect Catholic schools in America. First, schools must have leaders who understand, articulate, and guard the mission of Catholic education; second, school leaders must understand that, despite the importance of mission, almost everything hinges on the teachers, and they must work to hire and form great teachers; third, the faithful — all the faithful — must be emboldened to live a life of Christian sacrifice for their Catholic school.

In this essay, I will articulate more specifically what a focus on mission and leadership, teachers, and sacrifice entails for the rebuilding of Catholic schools and conclude with the claim that the solution is theological first and foremost and can be found by any faithful pastor of good will.

Mission & Leadership

The mission of Catholic schools flows immediately from the nature and purpose of the Catholic Church herself: it is nothing other than to sanctify and save souls. It seems, moreover, that there are many documents available to help the faithful understand this mission. I recommend starting with the first two numbered paragraphs of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum educationis. These two paragraphs, if read and contemplated daily, could alone form someone in the mission of Catholic schools. In those two paragraphs, the Fathers of the Vatican Council explain that the job of schools is to form young children to become virtuous adults and to grow in holiness and embrace the call to sainthood. In other words, from a natural perspective, they should cultivate the cardinal virtues and learn how to help the common good of society; from a supernatural perspective, they should grow in the theological virtues and build up the Kingdom of God; the Body of Christ; the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

At the same time, can it really be said that the faithful do not know the mission of Catholic schools? If we know the mission that God has appointed us in this life (to grow in holiness and save our souls for the greater glory of God), how can we not know the mission of our schools? Reading and studying church documents and theology should be nothing more than an expansion of our kernel appreciation of this primal truth, based on our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We should not feel that we are foreigners to the mission of Catholic schools or that these ideas are only known by a special elite with doctorates in some distant realm.

In practice, what does an “on mission” Catholic school look like? Usually it entails daily Mass, frequent confession, and a vibrant sacramental life combined with adoration opportunities, spiritual direction, and prayer throughout the day. All activities, from a natural perspective, are ordered first and foremost to growth in positive good habits. Meanwhile, the life of the good person is extolled in every way, and worldly successes (sought and often achieved) are always seen from their heavenly perspective. Furthermore, while core subjects are taught and the necessary skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic — along with the perennial ideas and truths of the human tradition — developed, teachers “open up” the content of their courses to the unifying principles and truths of the Catholic faith for forming a Catholic worldview in the hearts and minds of their students.4

What is the difference between “on mission” and “off mission” schools? Examples best illustrate the answer to this question. If we think that the purpose of Catholic schools is to get our children into Harvard or Yale, then we will spend significant amounts of money and resources building a high-end AP curriculum along with a college counseling office whose job is ordered strictly toward professional contacts with Ivy League professionals; meanwhile, we will encourage students to fill up their résumés with a long list of “community service” activities that are important not because they are actually service but because they serve our agenda of building up a résumé.

On the other hand, if our mission is to cultivate virtue and holiness in our children, we will have an approach to service that looks at the internal growth of the love for the good in our children, and we will adapt the formation of our children according to their developmental stages. Meanwhile, our curriculum does not need to veer away from classics that allow for instruction and discussion of the virtuous life, and we do not need to overburden our students with “boxes to check” as they live and grow on the road to sainthood.

In the first case, we get our children into “good” colleges, but we will have lost all moments of forming them in right thinking and right living; they might lose their faith. In the second case, they probably will not go to Harvard, but they very well might get to heaven.

Any number of other examples could suffice. An “off mission” school devotes a disproportionate amount of resources to its sports program to gain notoriety and wealth through its athletic success. Then, one day, the families in the school wake up and find out that no one loves God because they all worship themselves and their own success. Similarly, a school might devote itself to a technology initiative at the expense of concern for the proper development of the child. They realize, though, after a while, that the children are no longer interested in giving of themselves freely because they are intoxicated with digital realities.

So, who should lead these schools; that is, who keeps the mission sacrosanct? Bishops, superintendents, and pastors should be careful in making their selections for the Head of School. At the same time, choosing the right leader is not as hard as one might think. A basic principle of common sense is that a great leader proves his/her effectiveness through his/her effectiveness.

But we must understand what effectiveness in leadership looks like. It is not necessarily growth in enrollment or endowment, though these can be important markers of success. It is not lofty erudition or clever words, though these, too, can be assets. Great leadership is manifested in a person’s ability to inspire others, defuse harmful rivalry or resentment in colleagues, and clarify and organize roles so that employees have a sense of their own mission and responsibility. They do not need to be “bookish” smart with a knowledge of many things; rather great leaders are “prudent” smart with a savvy for consulting the right sources for finding relevant information in making decisions. We can identify good leaders by talking to the people who work for them; when employees enjoy their boss, it is because they feel a sense of mission and trust that there is assistance and respect for them in carrying out their role in that mission.

Perhaps the work of a potential head of Catholic school is in a field other than education. That may still be a sign of a good principal if, in fact, he/she shows signs of being a good leader. As long as a candidate with a proven leadership charism understands and desires to protect the mission of a school, he/she is a better candidate for Head of School than someone with a lot of degrees in education but who does not understand how to lead people. Good leaders who know the mission will protect the mission, and they will make sure all employees are “on mission.” Bad leaders are those who lead but in the wrong direction; they must be taught the proper mission of the Church or replaced.


So, whom, then, must these great Catholic school leaders lead? The answer above all is: great teachers. Gravissimum educationis makes the bold claim that we should “let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs.”5 Why is this the case? The Church understands that education is mimetic. She gets this from Our Lord who places all of His instruction in the words, “Follow me.” Christianity is a religion of imitation, not one of bookish indoctrination. To be sure, the Church has a rich doctrinal and catechetical background that needs to be imparted to the young according to their stage of development. However, nothing will get imparted at all if teachers are incapable of reaching and, thus, teaching children. And, at the same time, if teachers do not reach their students, then other role models will. Moreover, since the bulk of students’ time is spent with their teachers, this is the most significant force in forming their thoughts and desires.6

Great teachers are the ones who can bring children into their orbit so that children and adolescents will heed and follow them. They know how to use law effectively and role modeling even more effectively. They have what I call the “gravity of education.”7 As a result, no Catholic school should ever hire a non-Catholic teacher; moreover, the Catholic identity of every employee should be not merely spoken but lived. A minimal level of lived holiness should be evident in every employee.

Where do pastors and heads of school find such teachers? Again, the answer is not necessarily as difficult as we might think. We do not find them simply by consulting résumés. We find them by watching their impact on young people. We can observe a potential hire as a coach or teacher at a different school or in some volunteer or part-time status at our own school or in our own town. Then, we can look to the “fruit.” Do the students like the teacher? Do they say they like that teacher’s class? Do they talk about what they are learning or debating or doing in the class? Do those teachers impact the lives of the students for the good?

And once hired, are the teachers being given good formation? For young teachers, some instructional method, classroom management, and assessment knowledge is helpful, as long as this professional development is based in common sense and not the latest “new and improved” invention of a questionable — or fashionable — ideological theory. Above all, though, formation of teachers comes through dialogue with veteran teachers and reading and studying Church teaching, lives of these saints, and pedagogical theology (or even pastoral theology) that allows teachers to continue to open up their thinking to the big picture and mission of the school. If someone has a calling to be a teacher — if he/she has a charism, a gift to do this — then formation will take place gradually for that educator by his/her blending experience with reflection and dialogue to grow in his/her craft.

Several objections implicitly or explicitly arise on this front. Perhaps the right curriculum, and not the teachers, will save schools? This question misses an absolutely fundamental principle of education: a great teacher will lead children and adolescents to Christ studying the most banal piece of contemporary pop music lyrics, while a bad teacher will ruin Hamlet for young people for life. Of course, “on mission” schools with great teachers will naturally gravitate toward the best books and the most “on mission” curricula available (usually this ends up with titles such as “classical curriculum,” “great books paideia,” or “liberal arts education”), but this is always secondary to the fundamental question: who is teaching and leading my children?

A second objection along these lines runs thus: perhaps we should first make sure our teachers have expert knowledge in their field. But, in K-12 classes, knowledge of the subject is much less important than the ability to draw students in to a life of virtue. The best Latin teacher I know started teaching Latin 1 to seventh graders with no knowledge whatsoever of Latin. He stayed one day ahead of his class all year and then slowly grew his craft over time; his charism to teach was far more important than his knowledge or expertise. On the other hand, I’ve also taught alongside multiple PhDs — “doctors” in their field — who had no ability to work with children; the result of their work was disastrous, even harmful, to the children. This intellectually elitist (or progressive) type of hiring mindset is vastly inferior to an openness to hiring, say, the town’s Catholic baseball coach, whom everybody loves and follows, to teach your seventh grade science class. Remember: great coaches and teachers know how to get kids to work; that is far more important than the ability to give a lecture on a subject.

Perhaps having a great building with tons of facilities and lots of extracurricular options is a better investment than finding and forming great teachers? This objection again misses the point. A great teacher will successfully educate children in a basement, while a bad teacher will destroy the souls of the young in the ivory tower.

As a final thought on teachers, it is worth noting the prescient point of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education; they offer an expansive vision of what counts for an educator in a Catholic school: “Everyone who has a share in this formation is also to be included in the discussion: especially those who are responsible for the direction of the school, or are counsellors, tutors or coordinators; also those who complement and complete the educational activities of the teacher or help in administrative and auxiliary positions.”8 This list should definitely include coaches or other leaders of extracurricular activities: anyone, that is, who interacts with children in the school. Thus, again, the primary question for a Catholic school of hiring for anyone in a Catholic school should be: can and will this person lead young people to Christ in and through the particular service he or she is giving to the school?


Once we have the right mission and leadership and the right teaching personnel for a school, what is the final ingredient? The answer is Christian sacrifice. St. Paul exhorts the faithful to become living sacrifices. He writes: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”9 This means that, in all we do, we are called to holiness in self-gift. We must always see our actions in some way reflecting the Lord laying down his life for all; we participate in Christ’s sacrifice as the prime and fundamental act of Christian living.

All the faithful are called to live a life of sacrifice which is pleasing to God, Our Father. There is no real discipleship without “selling all you have and following” Christ. The Christian disciple enters the Body of Christ which is both Christ Himself given in the Eucharist and the Church, the mystical body of Christ; service to the Body is, therefore, a requirement. Moreover, the Code of Canon Law is unambiguous in the position that Catholic schools play in this dynamism: “The Christian faithful are to foster Catholic schools, assisting in their establishment and maintenance according to their means.”10

This principle of “according to their means” (pro viribus) is equivalent to the common refrain of “time, talent, and treasure.” All the faithful must contribute whatever financial means they can to build and sustain Catholic schools; all the faithful must give volunteering time and talent as called by God to Catholic schools. To be sure, this calls for discernment of gifts, but there can be no discernment without the first call of duty.

This means that the gala banquets and bingo fundraisers must all be set in the background of a fundamental proclamation from the pulpit: your soul will be judged on how well or poorly you helped the establishment and maintenance of Catholic schools!

Do all the faithful know that the law of the Church demands their self-sacrifice for Catholic schools? Sometimes, it seems that the call to help schools is presented as an invitation rather than a command. To be sure, there may be pastoral reasons to avoid direct confrontation with others about their duties before God; however, in the final analysis, withholding the truth about one’s path to salvation is sinful. We have a duty before God to let others know their duties before God.11

To understand the gravity of the Church’s call to sacrifice for Catholic schools we need to understand what the Church thinks schools, in fact, are. Here is the teaching of the Church:

Among all educational instruments the school has a special importance. It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life. Between pupils of different talents and backgrounds it promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understanding; and it establishes as it were a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.12

The revitalization of society begins with the Catholic school; it is, like the parish, a locus for sanctification and salvation of the faithful. It is a strong missionary arm of the church. When Catholic school children walk to school in recognizable uniforms and evident joy, they transform their community and are evangelizing the world by this witness.

The most damaging objection today comes from those who claim that, since parents are the primary educators, the Church really wants them to do most of the teaching; Catholic schools are, thus, optional. Why should we make sacrifices for them? This is a grave error in understanding what education is. Education is a formation of the child for society and the Church; parents play the first part introducing children to this world but then the school and church are the proper vehicles for maximizing entry into the civil and ecclesial societies.13 Pastors must be strong in challenging those who have abandoned Catholics schools to help rebuild them.

Again, the Sacred Congregation is essential here. The Catholic school is a vital organization for the sanctification of society:

While it is true that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children and that the rights and duties that they have in this regard are “original and primary with respect to the educational role of others,” it is also true that among the means which will assist and complement the exercise of the educational rights and duties of the family, the school has a value and an importance that are fundamental. . . . The function exercised by the school in society has no substitute; it is the most important institution that society has so far developed to respond to the right of each individual to an education and, therefore, to full personal development; it is one of the decisive elements in the structuring and the life of society itself.14

Another disturbing objection is that Catholic schools should have a waiting list, becoming the elite institutions in their area. Why make sacrifices for building out our schools and reaching all? Here the idea of mission is completely lost. Catholic schools exist to assist Catholic parents, who have a natural and ecclesial right to have their children educated in the faith.15 For a school or diocese to brag that it has a waiting list is equivalent to bragging that some parishioners get to send their kids to public school to be indoctrinated. Would Jesus have rejoiced knowing that there was a waiting list for His Sermon on the Mount?

A corollary objection is the economic one: we have no resources! But what exactly do we need to get started in building a school? First we need a place; then, we need some teachers and a leader. Very quickly, if the mission and teachers are great, parishioners will come, then more resources will flow. There is an obvious symbiotic relationship between good Catholic schools and healthy parishes. From one angle it may seem that we need to save our parish first and deal with the school later; however, isn’t it more likely that if we invest in our schools, then we will attract families to our parishes?

And please, let us not delay our actions as we wait for some magical “return of the nuns.” Catholics schools are largely staffed by laity not in religious life, and the faithful must find means for them to have a living wage just as they would have done for the religious. By all means, we should consider hiring religious sisters who have a calling to teach; however, there is no turning back to 1953.


One of the most pernicious threats to our Catholic school renewal is in an incipient progressivism or elitism that has distorted our ability to use common sense in an area that the Catholic church has always had the monopoly in: education. We must counter this threat with a return to a trust in how things have worked in the past, bringing them in line with the latest ideas only if that is necessary for the advancement – and not the dissolution – of our schools.

Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of selfishness and self-idolatry pulls us away from the necessary self-sacrifice required to build our schools and thus our parishes and church. We must give beyond the mere comfortable range so that we are not held guilty of receiving from the Lord without returning the gift; as Catholics, we are called to lay down our lives for our brothers and, above all, our children.

Finally, we are threatened by the lure of pride, the temptation of the city of Man (as Augustine would say) that makes us desire to have schools “like all the other nations.”16 We are not called to build public or private schools with merely a “Catholic addition,” as if we should just copy a secular public or private school and then throw in religion class on the side. Instead, we are called to build Catholic schools, ones which — in every class, every sport, every moment — lead children to Christ while sanctifying them and leading them to salvation. This is always far beyond what any non-Catholic school can do, no matter the academic, athletic, or extracurricular credentials it may have.

We do not need more power, fame, wealth, or prestige for our Catholic schools; we need more faith.

This essay is a call to pastors and all educators of good will. Do not be afraid to swing wide the doors of your heart to Jesus, the Master Teacher!17 He is the way, the truth, and the life of our Catholic schools, and all who follow Him will know the path to resurrecting our Catholic schools.

Resurrection is a divine action; it is the fruit of grace. Only God can resurrect; only the Holy Spirit can resurrect our Catholic schools. It is for this reason, though, that the answer to scholastic renewal will be theological first and foremost. Our success in giving new life to our Catholic schools will not come from worldly means; rather, it will come from our obedience to God’s word. God has revealed his plan of sanctification and salvation, and we are wise to listen and follow it — that is our mission.

Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit never fails to pour out gifts for the church. Listen to St. Paul:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.18

And, of course, he gives gifts of wealth and time to others in the Church. These, too, are gifts, for as Paul also says, “What do you have that you did not receive?”19 Everything we have is a gift from God Whose great desire is the building of His Church.

The teachers, administrators, and others dedicated to service will all appear for us if we begin in earnest to trust God’s plan, serve his mission, and pray and work to rebuild our Catholic schools. Pastors of souls, and all those in a parish, must realize that God will provide; it is impossible that He will not give the gifts needed for us to fulfill the mission He has entrusted to us. Wherever Christ begins to show the need for a Catholic school, He is ready to give all the gifts necessary to make that school come alive.

To be sure, it can seem overwhelming to think of building or reforming a Catholic school. Often “specialists” surface who threaten the work of the Church in the name of degrees, expertise, or some kind of official bureaucratic status. They tend to make the work of education seem overly complex, complicated, and nearly impossible to achieve. Others threaten to adopt power positions in the administration to misdirect the school for selfish or worldly reasons. In these circumstances, we must remain confident that the Lord will guide us in building the schools we need for our children.

If we return to right mission and leadership, right selection and formation of teachers, and right sacrifice for the common good to build and nurture our schools, then we will rebuild our Catholic schools and, as a result, help renew our parishes, our Church, and society. Or, to be more precise, we will be the instruments through which the Holy Spirit resurrects the Catholic school in America.

  1. Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Washington, DC: Regnery publishing, 2017), 55.
  2. Esolen, 8.
  3. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, “The Catholic Schools We Need,” America, September 13, 2010.
  4. Another approach to formation in mission can be the five pillars of the Cardinal Newman Society: or resources through the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE).
  5. Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, (October 28, 1965), 8.
  6. I developed this aspect of mimetic education in a previous HPR article:
  7. Tyler Graham, The Gravity of Education (Coppell, TX: self-published with, 2020).
  8. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, (October 15, 1982), 15.
  9. Romans 12:1.
  10. Christifideles scholas catholicas foveant, pro viribus adiutricem operam conferentes ad easdem condendas et sustentandas. (CIC 800.2).
  11. We might also ask why support for Catholic schools has a such a highlighted dimension in the Code of Canon Law. Do any other areas of apostolic life play such a role in the Code? Our self-giving should have a kind of “preferential option” for Catholic schools, for uneducated children are, in a sense, the “poorest of the poor.”
  12.  Gravissimum 5.
  13. This is based on Pope Pius XI’s argument in his encyclical on Catholic education, Divini Illius Magistri.
  14. Lay Catholics, 12–13.
  15. CIC 793.
  16. 1 Sam 8:20.
  17. This is meant to be an allusion to Pope John Paul the Great’s opening exhortation of his pontificate.
  18. 1 Cor 12:27–28.
  19. 1 Cor 4:7.
E. Tyler Graham About E. Tyler Graham

Dr. E. Tyler Graham has been teaching high school for 25 years and has a humanities B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. in religion from Syracuse, an M.T.S. from Ave Maria University, and a Doctorate in Theological Studies from Pontifex University. He currently lives in Ave Maria, Florida, with his wife and children. There, both spouses teach at, and all 6 children attend or have graduated from Donahue Academy, a Catholic classical school.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    My experience of Catholic Education in the past was far from the ideal you seem to believe existed. My Latin teacher did not know Latin or how to teach it. A good religious woman, but we needed someone who knew Latin and could teach it. I had an Algebra teacher who did not know Algebra nor how to teach it. A good woman was religious, but we needed an Algebra teacher. Many of my siblings attribute the physical discipline they received from religious sisters not because of their discipline problems but because of their learning disabilities to why they no longer are practicing Catholics. You lay out a plan for Catholic Education with simple foundations. Your experience and insights are an important contribution to the future of Catholic Education. I was a catechist in a Catholic School where most of the African American students were not Catholic. The focus on the simple foundations was important, but the mission had to be part of a larger Catholic Community effort. The outstanding school was forced to close because of a $200,000.00 debt. Yes sacrifice, but the 70 members of the parish living in a city that looked like a war zone could not make the sacrifice needed to continue the Catholic Education for that community. The parish I am now in is struggling to keep the Catholic School alive. Great teachers and principal but the multicultural parish with little or no pastoral leadership is not involved in the Catholic School. Young parents have long left their Catholic practice and are interested mainly in a good education for success in the world. Your good suggestions will not be enough to continue Catholic Education in this community. I continue to work on the mission of education in the parish without knowing what the results will be. You point to what I consider the core mission, that every student in Catholic School encounters Christ, and chooses to follow the WAY of Jesus. We are about forming disciples to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ for which the Church exists.

    • Dear Tom,
      Thank you so much for your prompt reply to this article! I have always known you to be a faithful reader of HPR and a great contributor to the ongoing dialogue that this online forum provides. I am particularly inspired by your words this time: “I continue to work on the mission of education in the parish without knowing what the results will be.” This reminds me of the great St. Teresa quote about “do it anyway.” We have to have that mindset; God alone is in charge. It is for Him that we work.
      At the same time, I would question whether we should continue to have an “every parish for himself” mindset. Is that really what the Church envisions? I think Canon Law does move toward a kind of “every diocese for himself” approach in a lot of areas. However, it seems that solidarity should govern more the way parishes help each other out in a given diocese. I heard once that in one diocese a Bishop threw down a 1% tax on all parishes to be distributed according to the needs of Catholic schools in his realm. I also think of the commitment a friend of mine, who has been a superintendent of several dioceses, had to not close any schools; he willed it, and the closings never happened. I think the principle of sacrifice for the common good, for the needs of the various parishes, and for schools in particular can still apply in the situations you describe. As you put it aptly, “the mission had to be part of a larger Catholic Community effort.”
      Now, if people lose the faith and walk away from the Church, all we have is a new evangelization; we might have to close the schools and the churches then. But if the faithful are still coming to the church but misled by worldly concerns, then they must be taught! We must teach our parents what their duties are in providing a Catholic education to their children! To send children off “to the world” when the Church is offering to teach them is a sin. To paraphrase a Newman principle, parents have rights to make primary educational decisions because they have duties.
      As far as the Latin and Algebra stories from the past are concerned, we have to ask the hard question there: Were these people called to teach? To be sure, you have to know some math or language to teach these things; you can’t give what you do not have. But if the teaching never happened, perhaps the people were not called to teach in the first place.
      Moreover, you may be right that the Catholic schools of the past are seen now with rosy-eyed spectacles. Maybe they needed reform all along. So let’s keep going for it, encouraging one another, and helping one another. Let’s pray for one another, Tom, and, as we move through Catholic Schools Week 2024, pray for the renewal of Catholic schools in the 21st century!!!
      Peace to you,

  2. Avatar Joseph DeLisle says:

    Dr. Graham,

    Unfortunately, the average Catholic school is so far from what you are proposing here.

    In the local archdiocese, the problems that need to be addressed are seriously scandalous and frankly horrifying. For example, we have Muslim prayer rooms, grotesque liturgical abuses, disturbingly immodest dress by students and teachers alike, and feminism is ubiquitous.

    If house were to be cleaned, there would be little left.

    Ave Maria is a far cry from your average diocesan Catholic School. Your ill-advised attack on homeschooling at the end is a primary reason most homeschooling families will never give one red cent to Catholic schools. They are not your enemy. All the feminists and modernists that run 90% of Catholic schools are your enemy and frankly the enemy of their own stakeholders.

    Eliminate the attack on those, especially homeschoolers, who have lost faith in Catholic schools. Most Catholic schools have proven ineffective in producing lasting sanctity, and to tithe one’s hard earned money to an ineffective and purposefully lukewarm institution is absurd. To state that it is a salvation issue is spiritually abusive.

    I agree with much of your analysis here, but heretical and morally scandalous so-called Catholic institutions can never be the recipients of our time and financial sacrifice. What is essential is giving to those schools who transmit the one true Faith in all its glory!!! Furthermore, we must pray for those who are leading little ones astray, for they are legion and millstones are really heavy!!

    Ave Maria!

    • Dear Mr. DeLisle,
      Thank you for your heartfelt and cogent reply to my article. I appreciate, in particular, your goodwill toward my town and school. In Florida, we have Sea World and Disney World. I call Ave Maria, “Catholic Education World.”

      That being said, I wish to clarify a few points lest the internet exchange suffer from a “negative reciprocity” or, as Girard would say, a “mimetic violence” in the linguistic realm. I am not “attacking” anyone, nor am I painting anyone out as an “enemy.” As a matter of fact, I never once used the word, “homeschooling,” in my article; I merely address a theological position that is being taken by some parents (albeit, to be sure, by many self-described homeschoolers) that is not in line – in my view — with the proper reading of the Church documents. If someone can prove to me (and many of my colleagues) that “parents are the primary educators” means “parents are the main educators” or “parents are the best educators,” or “parents are the only educators” for a child according to the Roman Catholic Church based on Magisterial teaching, I am waiting for the case to be made. However, every time I look to what the Church is saying, I find the opposite statements.

      First, consider the major encyclical on Catholic education; nothing since Divini Illius Magistri about 100 years ago (well before the Council) seems contradicted by anything since. Pius XI makes clear in paragraphs 11-14 what we mean by primary, secondary, and tertiary society to which education and educators must correspond in due order and degree. The Pope states, “The family is an imperfect society;” it follows that parents as the teachers of the first society can only do so imperfectly. Something else is needed to go toward perfection. This is the neo-Thomist, traditional, pre-conciliar, ati-modernist position of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

      Further teaching on this topic (now from after the Council) suggests that removing a child from the Catholic school is only to be used in cases where schools have wounded the presentation of the faith. Even then, however, these families who protest against the current schools should band together in groups. The implication? Start building new schools! Build an independent Catholic school if the whole diocesan framework has gone South. Here is John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio: “But corresponding to their right, parents have a serious duty to commit themselves totally to a cordial and active relationship with the teachers and the school authorities. If ideologies opposed to the Christian faith are taught in the schools, the family must join with other families, if possible through family associations, and with all its strength and with wisdom help the young not to depart from the faith. In this case the family needs special assistance from pastors of souls, who must never forget that parents have the inviolable right to entrust their children to the ecclesial community” (FC 40).

      I understand that many parents who discern the need to homeschool do feel threatened by political and legal forces against which they may feel that they are at war. Be assured of my complete support for a parent’s right to homeschool. I will advocate alongside the homeschool communities to secure these legal rights any day. But I push for parental rights with the understanding that we “have rights because we have duties,” and parents have the duty to seek out the best Catholic school for their children.

      My angle in this essay is, however, not directed at the homeschooling parents as much as it is toward those looking to build or rebuild schools. What we need is a dialogue and discernment process between the school personnel and parents who have abandoned them (or protest against them). Here are some possible questions for such people to ask in conversaiton: Why are you leaving the school? Is your reason theological? Is it personal? What, in your view, needs to change in our presentation of the faith or our method of education? These kinds of questions can spur dialogue and fuel an opportunity for pastors or school personnel to share relevant teachings of the Church on education if that is necessary; it also allows, conversely, a chance for knowledgeable faithful “protestors” to explain what needs to change in the schools. Dialogue is central to breaking down the “echo chambers” that we live in today.

      I understand that, in many places, it just doesn’t seem like there are enough resources; it may even feel like God has abandoned Catholic schools. The fact is, though, that the children are there, the teachers are there, the call is there, and the graces are abundantly available. We need to learn or re-learn how to access them. It is helpful to become aware of problems and then to understand their causes; however, if we are not going to work to solve them, then we end up in a “perpetual crisis” mentality that is ultimately unsustainable for real growth.

      Let’s push the narrative further since I co-authored “Homeschooling is Not the Ideal” and which you fervently responded to then. Are parents actually homeschooling now? Aren’t the main frameworks for schooling inside one’s home really online schools like Mother of Divine Grace and other online options with sports, clubs, and the sacraments added on for the kids? Maybe the so-called homeschooling parents understand already that they need secondary and tertiary educators to complement their primary educational position and role. Maybe we need to add another theological error to the list. We need to challenge the position that online education is equivalent to in-person education. I wrote about that in the article “Online Education is Not Fully Catholic Education.”

      Your strongest critique is not aimed at my argument, however. You are concerned about the power base in American Catholic education. Who controls the schools? Your strong claim that the majority is run by feminists and modernists may be true. I have no statistics on these things. But even if it is true, is God then asking us give up and quit? I just refuse to believe that we’ve crossed that threshold; we are not in Castro’s Cuba. Parents may be leaving states where education is totalitarian, but they aren’t necessarily leaving the country.

      Since God has sustained sufficient freedom at this point, why not build new schools? See what Fr. Sirico did in Grand Rapids; check out the Chesterton Academies springing up everywhere; ICLE is working with schools across the country to get them on mission; NAPCIS has helped many start; and there are bishops and/or superintendents who are now rebuilding Catholic schools and looking for a new approach that is faithful, on mission, and ordered toward saving souls. Meanwhile, there are now many, many Catholic educators “hiding out” in well-paid secular classical schools. Ave Maria is, indeed, a great place to educate your children, but God will not abandon anyone who hears the call to push out into the deep. Duc et altum!

      St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!