I was wondering about how well city Catholic schools are doing in Cincinnati.  The project to maintain Catholic schools in largely non-Catholic city neighborhoods has seemed of questionable worth to me, off and on.  Running a school is expensive, and taking resources from other Catholic parishes, many with their own schools, simply to provide an alternative to failing public school systems sounds backwards–at least if the goal is to make the next generation Catholic.  The big question is how Catholic these city schools can be with so few Catholic students.

So I just got back from a Mass at our parish that made me think a little more.  Some background: Memphis public schools are, by all accounts, truly, deeply, abysmal.  There is no Walnut Hills here.  As a result, some local philanthropists, few if any of whom are Catholic, have donated huge sums to city Catholic schools here–google Memphis Jubilee Schools.  The goal from their perspective is to provide an alternative to the disastrous public schools for Memphians who want their kids to learn something.  The Catholicism of the schools is neither here nor there to the donors.  To the diocese–that’s something I’m curious about.

So we belong to a parish (Blessed Sacrament) that has one of the Jubilee schools (De La Salle), and it in turn has connections to the local Christian Brothers’ community.  I wondered how Catholic the school was, but we’re homeschooling ours so it wasn’t an urgent question.  My wife goes to Mass daily and takes our girls 2-3 times a week.  She decided to go to Blessed Sacrament this morning, and I went too before getting back to grading final exams.

It turned out to be Mass day for the De La Salle students.  There were 120-150 students, maybe equally split among black, white, and Mexican kids, all in school uniforms.  Choir on one side singing those songs that nobody here likes, and neither do I, but they sang well. Lay teachers here and there, maybe half men and half women, and one Christian Brother in the back–the principal.  The students were REVERENT.  It was really impressive.  No chatting before Mass, paid attention during Mass.  The homily was very Catholic–on Our Lady of Guadeloupe, which I can see our padre really likes.  I am guessing that maybe 75 percent of the students were not Catholic–including the little girls with the Muslim get-up scarves–but all went up for Communion, and the vast majority who were not receiving crossed their arms over their chests and bowed before Our Savior.  It was really reverent.

I wondered if this kind of reverence might at some point come back to help these kids when they are older and thinking and praying about their place in the world and their relationship with God?  If they are not Catholic now, maybe they will see the Church as a source of wisdom and a way to connect with God when it comes to the appropriate time in their lives.  That’s way off in the future, and it’s hard to imagine chancery bureaucrats having that kind of vision, although it’s easy to imagine the Holy Spirit having that kind of vision.

So, I have no way of knowing how this school runs the other four days a week, but at least at Mass, I didn’t see any watering down, and I did see a lot of solid Catholicism, so I’m somewhat more optimistic about Catholic schools for non-Catholic kids than I was.  I wondered if this was an issue in Cincinnati, and how Catholic the city schools are.

John Murray

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