Reaching out to the expanding Latino population

Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora, director of Catholic School Advantage Campaign at the University of Notre Dame

The statistics are not good for Latino students in public schools. Less than half graduate high school. For every 100 Latino kindergarten children, only 48 will receive a high school diploma. That’s pretty bad, and of course that public school world doesn’t take into account their faith life. 

The reality is that immigrants are typically ill-served by the public school system, which is not meant to be a criticism of it. It is a reality. If less than half are graduating, something is wrong. … 

I think the reason why Latinos do better in Catholic schools than in public schools is that there is at least some one-to-one correspondence. Our schools are Catholic, and most Latinos are. Our schools historically have served immigration populations well. 

Latinos fall through the cracks, in large part, because of language. Another big piece of it is that it is a very different educational system than in Mexico. They fall through the cracks because there’s poor communication with parents. Oftentimes English isn’t the first language. And I think they fall through cracks because oftentimes there are low expectations of immigrant children. People just think they won’t learn very much because they’re immigrants, and then that colors how they learn. In Catholic schools about 96 percent graduate. A Latino that goes to Catholic school is 46 percent more likely to graduate from high school. 

[The influx of Latinos in the United States] is a demo-graphic shift like we’ve never experienced before. … The most experience this country has had with immigrants is Europeans. Now the majority are from Latin America, and they look differently, they think differently, they have different blood. Unlike immigrants from Europe who largely integrated and assimilated, I think Latin Americans will integrate but not assimilate, but in the end that just means that we have to advertise differently.  

There are a lot of things you can do. [Our program has] something called 30 interventions for under a dollar that can attract Latinos to your school. We eventually hope to turn a corner on why 70 percent of the practicing Catholics under the age of 35 are Latino and why only 2 percent send their kids to Catholic schools.  

The objective of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign is to go from 3 to 6 percent, which would be 800,000 kids. That’s a lot of kids. If we’re successful we’ll give a Catholic education to hundreds of thousands of kids who wouldn’t have had one, we’ll provide leaders in the Church and in society, and we’ll keep our schools open.

A by-the-numbers look at Catholic education in the United States

Mary Gautier, senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University

Benefits of a Catholic education

Those who particularly attended a Catholic high school, they’re more likely to attend Mass more regularly, they’re more likely to have considered a vocation to priesthood or religious life. For adult Catholic men who attended a Catholic elementary school, 30 percent said they had considered becoming a priest or brother. The percentage among Catholics who had not attended a Catholic elementary was 13 percent.

For women who attended a Catholic elementary school, almost a quarter said they had considered becoming a sister. Again, compared with 13 percent who had not attended Catholic elementary school. For those who had attended a Catholic high school it’s slightly higher.

And students who attend Catholic schools are much more likely to attend college than those who attend public schools.(see box, Page 10).

Reasons for attendance slide

An importance difference from 50-60 years ago is that the Catholic kids don’t live where the Catholic schools are. There’s been a tremendous demographic change in the Catholic Church in the past 50-60 years — movement from the traditional immigrant neighborhoods and areas of the Northeast and Midwest where the Catholic migration happened in the 19th century and early 20th century, and movement from there, through several generations, into the places where Catholics live today. Catholics are pretty much equally distributed around the country.

So there’s been a huge migration to the South and West outside the urban population centers and the immigrant neighborhoods and into the suburbs. A lot of that migration means that people moved out of areas where a lot of the old parishes and schools were, so where they moved to they had a lack of infrastructure. They didn’t necessarily have enough schools, or schools available for the Catholic kids.

There’s plenty of places in the country where there’s a waiting list and has been for a long time. A third of schools now have a waiting list for kids trying to get in. But there’s fewer and fewer kids in Catholic schools because the schools aren’t where the kids are. There’s plenty of schools that are closing, and you see that the number of elementary schools in particular, but also secondary schools, have been declining. It’s not because there’s not a demand for the schools, it’s that the buildings that exist aren’t in a location where the people are. And it costs a tremendous amount to build a new school, for obvious reasons, and to staff a new school.

Forming future Church and civic leaders

Father Ronald Nuzzi, senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame

I can’t think of a social, civic or Church ill, struggle or problem that would not be ameliorated by a strong education, and in many ways I think a strong Catholic education and a strong religious education is the solution to many of the struggles that we face in the Church and society today.

I think Archbishop Dolan’s list [detailing the reasons for the struggling enrollment in Catholic schools] is accurate. The principal struggle that we’ve seen in Catholic education today and in the past decade has really been fiscal; it’s been financial. Catholic people in general support Catholic schools, and some of the research that we’ve conducted shows that bishops and priests are supportive of Catholic schools, it’s just that they can’t always afford, like many families, what they’d like. Catholic schools are becoming increasingly expensive as a result of declining religious available to work in them. And as we move to this fully lay staff and the need to pay them just wages and benefits and insurance and things like that, schools have become increasingly expensive pro-positions, especially at the high school level, so that it has become increasingly impossible for a single parish to support its own school. And then, in many cases, we have priced middle class families out of Catholic schools because of the increasing costs.

Who is responsible?

The Church has long taught that the parents are the primary educators of their children, and Catholic schools in that sense are a partner with parents and meant as a support to parents and intended as a partner in the nurturing and the religious education that goes on in family life. That said, Catholic schools provide a great benefit to families, they provide a great benefit to the Church, they provide a great benefit to neighborhoods and to cities and to civic societies. I would take Archbishop Dolan’s thinking one step further. Not only are all families with children in Catholic schools to support Catholic schools because they’re good for the Church, I think civic society, because of the contribution that Catholic schools make to the common good, I think the federal government, the state government and our local and state tax dollars should go to support Catholic schools in a proportionate amount because they’re good for the country. They’re good for raising good citizens and good Americans. So “yes” to Archbishop Dolan, but even broader than that.

Why Catholic schools were crucial to the history of the Church in the United States

Thomas Hunt, fellow in the Center for Catholic Education and professor in the Teacher Education Department at the University of Dayton and co-editor of “Urban Catholic Education: Tales of Twelve American Cities” (Alliance for Catholic Education Press, $25) with Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.

I think the history of Catholic schools in America is an outstanding, remarkable story because the magnitude of the voluntary contribution is unique in the history of the world, to my knowledge — a private school institution on that scale. Historically, the Catholic schools in this country were established, for the most part, as parish elementary schools. … These schools did a magnificent job, and there were two goals that they had: one was to preserve the faith of the children, and the second one was to make them ready to have success in American society. Those two goals were overriding in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries in the Catholic school education history in this country.

The first overall theme [confronting these schools], I would say, would be survival for the Catholic Church in general in this country and for Catholic schools in particular in the early 19th century. The second theme would be the importance of immigration for the various ethnic groups that came in. Some of them, mainly the Germans, the Polish, the Bohemians and the Slovaks, were more devoted to parochial schools and the preservation of their ethnic heritage, which included their faith.

And the schools were adaptable — that’s another theme. The Catholic schools were able to adapt to the American culture because Church leaders did not want to force parents to choose between their faith and success in American society, living productive lives. They wanted to reach both goals. And for the most part they certainly did.

Another overarching theme historically would be community. The parish was a community, and the parish school was a community institution. There was no tuition charge. The parish school was [supported] by the generous services of the women religious, the nuns, a tremendous contribution — impossible, really, to measure — and the second was the Sunday collection.…

Overall, I think the Catholic schools did a marvelous job of maintaining the faith of the children. As Cardinal James Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore, said, “No schools now means empty churches later.” 

There was definitely that feeling that [the attendance] at the parish Catholic school was a telling point for the preservation in that individual of the faith throughout his or her life. And for the most part that was true.

Read Archbishop Dolan's remarks here