The lead story in this week’s issue of OSV Newsweekly is an analysis by Hoffsman Ospino of Boston College on the issue of representation of Hispanic children in Catholic schools in the United States. The editors intentionally sought to raise this perennial and important issue as the Church in the United States observes Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.
The numbers that Ospino lays out — numbers that appeared in a 2016 study published by OSV — are striking. Hispanic children represent 8 million out of the total 14.6 million Catholic school-aged children in the United States today. And yet only 318,000 Hispanic Catholic children are enrolled in Catholic schools. We can, and must, do a better job of inviting young Hispanics into our schools. Embracing Hispanic families into the lives of Catholic parishes and schools is a great opportunity for the Church in the United States. We would argue that it is the single most important challenge facing the Church in the United States in coming years.
Based on feedback from the 2016 study, Ospino has identified three ways in which Catholics schools can better welcome Hispanic families: by forming relationships; by understanding that the Hispanic experience is different from the Anglo experience, and that, additionally, not all Hispanic families are the same; and by incorporating more Hispanics into leadership levels in Catholic schools, whether executives, principals or teachers.
Of course, just because an opportunity has presented itself doesn’t mean it won’t be tragically squandered. The Church in the United States has known for years that Hispanics are an underserved community. But properly integrating that community within the life of the Church requires a strategic investment of time and resources, as well as the willingness to prioritize and engage with a community that has unique complexities.
Despite these challenges, this integration is possible. An example of Catholic education contending with these realities in a very fruitful way is the Cristo Rey Network, which is composed of 32 Catholic preparatory schools across the United States that combine academics with professional work experience. The network’s website calls the approach “a powerful and innovative approach to inner-city education that equips students from economically disadvantaged families with the knowledge, character and skills to transform their lives.”
These challenges call to mind the words of Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) that Jesus “hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people” (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 270).
The Hispanic community is a great gift to the Church. Our parishes and, yes, our schools are richer because of their participation and their perspectives. By forming relationships, by striving to understand the Hispanic experience, by opening doors to Hispanic leadership, we only benefit.
The constant flurry of life in the Church can make a parish or diocese reluctant to invite the additional complication of new projects and efforts. That is not an option. The Church is tasked with taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but also with recognizing brothers and sisters in our midst. Embracing complication brings us more fully into our mission.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young