This week throughout the United States, the Church is observing Catholic Schools week. This morning I had Mass at Tampa Catholic and on Thursday I will celebrate Mass for the students and staff of Clearwater Central Catholic High School. In this diocese we have 1,409 children in early Childhood Centers owned and operated by our parishes and schools, 12,266 in elementary and high schools including The Academy of the Holy Names and Jesuit in Tampa. There are presently 28 elementary and 6 high schools celebrating Catholic schools week.
These are tough times for Catholic in-school education. Tuitions are too high for many people and demographics in this area are indicating a significant decline in the number of school age children. As most of you know, both Pinellas and Hillsborough county have or are considering closing some public schools because of a marked decrease in enrollment.
Catholic education in this country thrived on three realities which are no longer present: (1) the shoulders of religious sisters, brothers and priests who worked for nothing; (2) the hostility toward the Catholic religion in general and thus the need for Catholic schools to protect both faith and values; and, (3) a genuine belief in Catholic families that Catholic education was important to imparting and sustaining the faith. The sisters are gone for the most part and their place has been taken by dedicated and devoted lay women and men who deserve (as did the sisters and brothers) a just wage – thus much higher tuitions. Many parents are not afraid of secularization and do not place the same emphasis on moral teaching and discipline as did their and our parents (this can be evidenced in part by the number of parents who do not and will not take their children to Sunday Mass yet continue to access the schools). Between cost, some loss of identity and better public schools, enrollment loss is today more the order of the day.
Our schools and centers continue to attempt to buck the trend. Generally, where there is a vibrant and younger population, schools are getting by and several are flourishing. Also generally, where the demographics of an area suggest a diminishing population of children, schools are hurting. In some instances in this diocese, the schools are no longer in a viable service area and there are no schools where there should be. The Diocesan Finance Council has asked me to commission a diocesan-wide review of our Catholic schools and to suggest financially viable ways in which to maintain them for the future.
For now, however, we acknowledge the presence and good work of Catholic education in our five counties. And I salute our principals, administrators, teachers and staff for maintaining quality educational institutions in a challenging time. But most of all I wish to acknowledge those gallant parents who truly sacrifice so that their children may benefit from Catholic education. That’s what this week is all about, celebrating the present while prudently planning for the future.
The Tampa Catholic experience this morning was enhanced by the presence of grandparents, proud of their offspring and happy to attend Mass with them. A senior girl named Victoria at the end of Mass gave a tour d’force about the things that school does to be of service to the broader community. She was proud of the Tampa Catholic Crusaders work on behalf of others and so was I. Now I look forward to Thursday at Clearwater Central Catholic.
With some TC students after Mass