In my last article, I wrote in praise of our renowned Catholic schools, encouraging our parents to send their children to them. I appreciate your feedback.

The reason we sometimes have to make the reluctant and painful decision to close a school is for one reason: there are not enough kids in them.

You can blame the mean, old archdiocese, which many do (forgetting that last year alone we invested $43.6 million of archdiocesan money into our schools); you can unfairly blame the priests and principals; you can blame the sisters or brothers who used to provide most of our teachers; or you can blame parents who choose not to send their children to our schools.

In the long run, the “blame game” has no winners.

Why do parents decide not to enroll their children in a Catholic school? It couldn’t be that public schools are better, since year after year the stats on state exams and graduation rates at Catholic schools are much higher.

We know the reason: money. Parents have to sacrifice to get the tuition, and, simply put, some can’t afford it. We try our best to help with scholarships (actually, every student in a Catholic school is on scholarship, since tuition only covers about 75 percent of the cost), last year providing $16,354,000 for families who needed it. We could argue, as my predecessors since Bishop John Hughes have done, that public schools should not have a monopoly on education, and that the school taxes should follow the children to the schools parents choose. Don’t hold your breath for politicians to listen. They usually only support our schools when they want a child to get into one, or when they protest that one in their district had to close.

Sadly, some parents have plenty of money but still choose free schools. I got a letter from parents of a high school senior who tearfully wrote that their son was told he could not graduate until tuition was paid up. Could I help and be merciful? When I telephoned the principal, she said graciously, “Cardinal, I’ll do whatever you tell me. But, did you check the return address on the letter?” I hadn’t, but I then did. “Ok, I see it’s from Florida.”  “Yes,” the principal went on, “They have a winter home down there. And the son to graduate drives a T-Bird convertible.” Enough said…

My point from the last column was that the most convincing reason for a parent to sacrifice for the Catholic schooling of their children was because of the values, morals, spiritual foundation, and character building their kids get there, a Catholic education, which is holistic—body, mind, and soul.

Which means we must, in justice, give such an education!

Recently a mom told me she, her husband, and their son were touring colleges to decide on one for the son’s future. The preference of all three was a Catholic college. She was so let down when, on the tour of one of them, the student guide assured them, “Oh, this is called a Catholic college, but don’t worry. We never have to go to chapel, we don’t have to take any courses in religion, nobody prays in class, and no one even knows the college is Catholic.” Needless to say, they left the tour. (By the way, what was sad is that I knew the college, and it does not deserve that negative description. The tour guide had it wrong).

So, our schools must have strong and effective religious education, daily, by believing, qualified teachers. We wouldn’t hire a math teacher who did not know his/her subject. Nor should we a religion teacher! We would start and end each day with a prayer.  The students would often be at Mass, and confession and devotions would be frequent. Our children would learn prayers, the commandments, the Bible and the Church’s moral teachings. They would learn how to defend their faith, to respect all life, and to serve those in need. If they don’t, why sacrifice to choose a Catholic school?

School’s out. I renew my deep appreciation for our principals, teachers, boards, parishes, regions, priests, volunteers, alumni, and benefactors who assure our schools remain excellent, affordable, and available.

And I urge our parents to sacrifice to send your children to them. As Jesus asked, “What does it profit us if we gain the world but lose our soul?”

A blessed summer break!