Catholic schools and the state

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through James van schie

The Wall Street Journal recently published a headline “Catholic Schools Losing Students at Record Rate, Hundreds Close”. The story traces the decline of Catholic education in the United States, from 5.5 million students and 11,000 schools in the 1960s to 1.6 million students and 5,900 schools today.

It is an extraordinary fall. Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles responded to this article with an interview outlining the reasons for this decline.

Bishop Barron cited “nuns and nuns” – the increase in “nuns” (people without religion) and the decrease in “nuns” (fewer religious vocations) as critical reasons for the downfall. Bishop Barron also spoke of the financial reality that Catholic schools have simply become unaffordable for many families in the United States. With little to no state support, parents in the US pay an average of $ 10,000
per year for the Catholic education of each child.

The history of the United States is not exactly ours, but it has a strong resonance. Religious origin and affordability are still part of the discussions about Catholic education in New Zealand.

Representatives of Catholic schools and other state-integrated schools recently gathered in Wellington to meet with Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Our link with the state, and vice versa, is vital. In fact, it is a symbiotic relationship, as Catholic schools are a subset of all public schools. This is why Catholic schools in New Zealand are funded by the taxpayer. Without this support, our newspapers would be making the headlines about declining enrollments and widespread school closings in the face of unsustainable economic burdens.

At the meeting, Minister Hipkins stressed that one of the government’s goals is to make the well-being of students and the education of “the whole person” a top priority. While we may differ on the “how” of this goal, it is certainly the one we share.

Catholic schools aim for the fullest development of the human person – not just academic excellence. Such holistic education is never just individual or even personal. It is a partnership between God, the student, the teacher and the community / society / the world (with a special place for the poor and those who struggle).

Reflection and discernment, in a Catholic setting, can lead students to put their own growth in self-knowledge and understanding at the service of others. It’s more than activism or isolated charitable events. It is a service experience that is transformative because it is imbued with the spirit and presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Man for others.

The ultimate goal, the kaupapa, of a Catholic school is to train young men and women for others in imitation of Jesus. Just as “charity begins at home,” service begins in our own neighborhoods and communities as well. We live our faith in and for our society, however secular it may be.

Minister Hipkins clearly feels he wants the best for students, and his government, and any government that wants the best for students and society, has a willing partner in Catholic schools.

James van schie is Director General of the Diocese of Auckland.


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