by Rev. Fr. George A. Kelly, The Catholic Family Handbook, 1950’s
The Church always has recognized that schools in which moral teaching holds first place are essential to nourish and protect the faith of young people.
For example, in 1884, Pope Leo XIII wrote to the French archbishops and bishops: “It is of the highest importance that the offspring of Christian marriages should be thoroughly instructed in the precepts of religion; and that the various studies by which youth is fitted for the world should be joined with that of religion. To divorce these is to wish that youth should be neutral as regards his duties to God: a system of education in itself fallacious and particularly fatal in tender years, for it opens the door to atheism, and closes it on religion.
Christian parents must therefore be careful that their children receive religious instruction as soon as they are capable of understanding it; and that nothing may, in the schools they attend, blemish their faith or their morals. Both the natural and the divine law impose this duty on them, nor can parents on any ground whatever be freed from this obligation.”
Because centuries of experience have taught that the child exposed to schooling which ignores religious training is in grave danger of losing his faith, the Church has made it a universal rule that Catholics must send their children to religious schools when such institutions are available.
Canon law states:
“All the faithful are to be so reared from childhood that not only shall nothing be offered them opposed to the Catholic faith or moral propriety, but also that religious and moral training shall be given the most important place.
Catholic children shall not attend non-Catholic schools, neutral schools, or mixed schools, that is, schools that are also open to non-Catholics.
Only the local ordinary (the bishop) is competent to determine, in concordance with the norm of the instructions of the Holy See, in what circumstances and with what safeguards to overcome the danger of perversion, attendance at such schools may be tolerated.”
Theologians interpret this law as meaning that Catholics who deliberately send their children to non-Catholic schools, when Catholic schooling is available to them and in the absence of some compelling reason, may be guilty of sin.
Success in academic subjects should not be the sole basis upon which a school is judged. Even were the Catholic school in a particular community to hold a place below the tax-supported schools in scholastic achievement, it would nevertheless be superior. For it teaches the child the most important subject in his life–his position in relationship to his Creator, his fellow man and nature.
“My child can learn about religion at home and at Sunday School.” This is actually a basic teaching of the secularists–the false notion that religion can be made a thing apart. The child who is led to believe that religion is a subject reserved for Sundays is likely to grow up as a “Sunday Catholic” if, indeed, he keeps his faith at all.
Religion cannot be recognized only one day in the week and ignored the rest.
Truths learned in religion class are more important than truths in other subjects, because religious truths must influence every thought, word and deed of every waking hour.
Moreover, a child cannot obtain in a weekly class the understanding he requires to meet the challenges of his adult life as a Catholic. In
Catholic schools, the study of religion is a regular part of the curriculum and is taught just as thoroughly as reading, writing, arithmetic and other subjects.
The child gains a deep and reverent understanding of the principles of his faith, and practicing his religion becomes second nature to him.
Parents who believe that Sunday School instruction is adequate for a religious education would protest vigorously if their child were instructed only one hour each week in geography, history or some other subject of considerably less importance in the long view.
Father Joseph Fichter, S.J., who in 1958 completed a fine sociological study of one school system, confirms this judgment: “Here is ultimately the key to the difference between the public school child and the parochial school child.
The latter gets more and better reasons for his attitudes and behavior. By systematic observation in the classrooms, and by the testimony of police and fire departments, as well as of pupils and teachers who have had experience in both types of schools, there is demonstrable proof that the parochial school children are more orderly and self-controlled than the public school children. They have a better attendance record on school days and fewer of them get in trouble with juvenile court authorities.”
“I want my child to learn to live with all kinds of people.” Persons making this statement are obviously aware that there are basic differences between Catholics and non-Catholics–but they fail to realize that their child may adopt the beliefs of those with whom he comes in contact.
Parochial school pupils actually do meet children of various racial origins. The Church is universal and its membership is made up of all races and classes. There is a diversity in conformity.
In a typical Catholic school, your child will meet youngsters of Irish, Italian, German, Polish, English, French and other extractions.
“I went to public schools, and they did not hurt me.”
If so, the solid experience of the Church proves that you are an exception. In any event, one example does not prove a case. It is even true that some graduates of Catholic schools fall away from the faith while some graduates of public institutions are model Catholics. On the whole, however, a child’s chances of remaining a practicing Catholic are much greater if he has had a thorough grounding in the teachings of his religion.
If parents’ testimonials are the best advertisement for a school system, there is ample reason to believe that Catholic institutions would score higher than public ones. Almost invariably, parents who attended Catholic elementary schools, high schools and colleges are most insistent that their own children also be educated in Catholic institutions.
An interesting observation on this point was made by Amleto Giovanni Cardinal Cicognani, for twenty-five years Apostolic Delegate to the United States.
“Fifty years ago American bishops had to insist that a parish build a school and had to exert all their influence to see that there was a good attendance,” the Cardinal remarked. “Now it is just the opposite; it is from the lay people that the pressure comes. If a parish does not have a school, they come to the priest and insist that he must build one.”
The Catholic school system in the United States is virtually unique in that its support depends entirely upon the people. Unlike Catholic schools in many other countries, there are no State subsidies.
Yet American Catholics support thousands of elementary schools, high schools and colleges even while they also pay taxes to operate public institutions. They carry a burden of double taxation because they realize the inestimable benefits that their children can derive when religious and moral training are made an integral part of education. Parents who have been educated in non-Catholic schools often are simply not aware of the values they have missed.