Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A lenten update, and the future of our Catholic schools

I was thinking about Lent this morning because I haven't been doing nearly as well as I would like with my daily devotions. When March started, I moved over to trying out the sample copy of Magnificat that I received, and as happened before, I'm just not using it. The simple truth is that I get lazy. I love saying my rosary in the mornings, but reading the morning and evening prayers just isn't happening. I did do better with my Liturgy of the Hours set, maybe I should go back to those. But as much as I admire Magnificat, I just don't use it to it's fullest potential. Hank at least has been using his Magnifikid! He still has 2 more issues left (they're actually divided into small booklets for each week) and we'll see how he does with those. I'm on the fence about getting him a subscription. I'm much more likely to pursue a subscription for him than I am for myself for the monthly Magnificat, I just want to make sure that he's going to really, really use it for $35 a year. I'll make a decision in the next week or so.

I will say that I've been keeping up with reading only Catholic nonfiction and religious fiction for Lent. I've been moving forward with The End and the Beginning and I love it. I finished up my Amish book and I plucked a new Catholic fiction volume off my shelf that I received for my birthday. I've been *very* tempted by some secular romance novels lately. I feel no compunction in saying that my reading roots are romance fiction, and I love this genre. I've been hoarding inexpensive Harlequin titles on my shelves that I picked up on the cheap, and I'm *dying* to delve into them, but I'm managed herculean restraint and I'm saying them for Easter time. I feel very martyr-like for my efforts.

Anyway, I was dwelling on my lenten failures this morning as I poured my cereal and Anne attempted to eat the throw rug at my feet, when Mike drew my attention to an article in the local section of our newspaper: yet another nearby Catholic school, running for the past *95 years* is closing at the end of this academic year.

This is so, so sad. Over the past 5 years or so, this area has seen a deluge of beautiful and historic Catholic parishes and schools close, and it's just heartbreaking.

We live in the heart of the Rust Belt. This area, once thriving with immigrants and their families, has had a massive loss of population. Those immigrants were mainly of Italian and Polish descent, so there were a LOT of Catholics. All of those Catholics attended gorgeous old-style Catholic churches and sent their kids to Catholic school. This school in question, the one that is closing, peaked in attendance with approximately 650 students back in the late 1950's and early 1960's. 10 years ago it had about 185 students. This school year, it had 109 students. For the upcoming academic year, only 60 students had enrolled, despite aggressive efforts to boost enrollment.

There's a lot of competition in this area, despite prior school closings. Very close to this school are 2 other Catholic schools , plus 5 others within a decently close driving distance, including the one Henry attends. And that's after 3 Catholic schools in this same area closed over the past few years! And the fact of the matter is, there's not as many people living in this area anymore. And of those people remaining that are Catholic, many of them just don't feel a pressing need to send their kids to Catholic school the way families used to. Now granted, there are lots of reasons parents decide to send their children to a public or otherwise non-Catholic school, and that's totally understandable. For many people, it's financial. The public school is free (aside from our tax money, of course). And for children with special needs the public school often offers more services for them.

But I can't help but think a huge issue is the fact that so many Catholics do not (or rarely) attend Mass anymore. People that aren't involved in their parish community are much less likely to send their children to the parish school. That combined with the two issues I mentioned above translates into a much smaller pool of students interspersed over all of these old Catholic schools, and you see the closings that we're experiencing now.

The school that Henry attends is doing well, thankfully, but it *is* smaller than the other 2 close by Catholic schools, which are absolutely thriving. This makes me terribly nervous. I just continue to recommend the school to other parents and hope for the best. I'd think that Henry's school would get a few families from this school that is closing, since it's not too far away. There's one that is closer that I'm certain will pick up the majority of them. Our diocese is offering a $500 stipend to all families in the closing school to enroll in any other diocesan Catholic school next year. And they'll be eligible for the discounted parishoner tuition rate. We also receive this rate, since we attend a parish without a Catholic school. Our parish school closed after running for just over 100 years. Only 80 students enrolled. So, so sad.

I mentioned my sadness to Mike, who concurred. I expressed a bit of anxiety about what we would do should Henry's school close, and happily he mentioned that we could look at the other 2 Catholic schools in our town. So, we'll see what happens. But we take pride in Henry's school and support it as much as we can. Enrollment time came up recently for next year, and I'm thrilled that we registered Henry for second grade there.

He came home the other day with a lenten journal that he had to decorate. PRECIOUS. I just love that he is there.

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