Be True to Your Catholic Elementary And High School, Too

have to give a lot of talks. So, I’m always getting requests for my curriculum vitae from the people stuck with the task of introducing me.

I always tell them to keep it very short, but to start like this: “Timothy Dolan is the oldest of five children born to Bob and Shirley Dolan. He was educated at Holy Infant Grade School in Ballwin, Missouri, and at St. Louis Prep High School in St. Louis…”

The rest, as far as I’m concerned, is gravy, flowing from those formative years. Family, parish grade school, Catholic high school…the rest, important as it is (like ordination as a priest) flows from that upbringing, and probably would never have happened without that foundation those first eighteen years.

This comes to mind now as we salute our young people graduating from our Catholic grade and high schools. Congratulating them inspires gratitude within for our own priceless gift of our Catholic elementary and secondary education.

I meet many influential and successful people. As I prepare to sit down with them—often to ask them for money!—I’ll review their own curriculum vitae. Unfailingly, I’ll see listed what university they attended (and usually note how they’ve since given millions to it), but rarely do I see listed their grade or high school.

Until I get talking to them! When I ask, they’ll beam about the sterling education they got at their elementary and secondary schools. Sometimes, sadly, given the challenges of the times, they’ll comment sadly that their Catholic grade or high school has since closed.

I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking if their well-publicized generosity to their college or university also extended to the wonderful schools of their youth.

Because it usually does not. Why, I keep asking, do we not have the strong tradition of generosity to our Catholic grade and high schools that we do to our colleges and universities?

When I have lunch with the devoted presidents of our Catholic institutions of higher learning, they’ll agree with me. They’ll talk about leading Catholic alumni from here (reluctant to give their names lest I go after them!) who donate big to their college. I’m glad their benefactors do, and thank them for it.

However, the presidents usually ask the same question I do: why don’t they donate big as well to their grade and high schools? The presidents will always remark that our Catholic elementary and secondary schools are the best feeders for our Catholic colleges.

I tell you when we do hear from the alumni of our Catholic grade or high schools: when the painful decision has to be made to close them! Oh, then we hear, “How can this happen! I owe everything to that school! I want other kids to have that chance!” Until we check the list of benefactors to the closing school, there to find no record of the complainers’ past generosity.

One college president wondered if it’s because alumni think that the parish and the diocese will always support the grade and high schools—and we sure try to, but can hardly do it all—but that universities depend very much on the generosity of grateful alumni. They do… but so do our grade and high schools.

By the way, this is why I am so hopeful about a project called Catholic Alumni Partnership (CAP), a dream of the late Robert Wilson, who generally initiated a program to contact alumni of our Catholic grade schools and invite them to give back to this.

Recently, a prominent Catholic came to visit, and told me he was having a “good year.” He was going to give away $1 million, and decided it would go to his Catholic College.

“Good decision,” I observed, as I thanked him. “But, why not first take a little of that and give some to the Catholic grade school and high school you went to!”

He looked at me, “ What a great idea! I never even thought of that!” Since his grade school had sadly closed, he gave to our Inner City Scholarship Fund, and sent a big check to his high school alma mater as well.

When I later saw the president of the Catholic college that benefactor had attended, I felt I owed him an apology, since I had “dipped into the till.” To my relief, Father replied, “Good move. I wish more of our loyal, supportive alumni would be good to their childhood schools as well.”

One of the core beliefs of our faith is that support of our Catholic schools—pre-, grade, high, and colleges—is a duty of every Catholic, even if they have no school on their parish property, or do not have children in them, or did not go there themselves.

Your author knows he’s very grateful to the North American College, where he went for seminary, and to The Catholic University of America, where he went for graduate work. But he can never forget his Catholic grade and high school!