04 April 2013

Just What is Being Saved Here?

A few months back I posted a story on the upcoming closure of the venerable St. Elizabeth Academy in St. Louis City. The only unusual element of the story was that there isn't anything unusual about Catholic schools (or parishes, for that matter) closing. In short, a sad but typical case of life in the New Springtime of the post-Vatican II world.

We live in a society that contracepts and aborts its babies out of existence. We belong to a Church that has done more than any other institution in the West to oppose this-- which sounds great until you realize that it has done practically nothing at all, and only stands in relief to everyone else, who did absolutely nothing or who even promoted it.

This same Church, though no dogma or doctrine has changed for her, has seemingly lost confidence in her own mission and identity. I mean, with all due respect, just how Catholic was St. Elizabeth in its death throes? Just how Catholic is your child's school? Your own parish? Of course the answers to these questions will depend on circumstances, but the trend and overall picture is not encouraging.

Catholic parishes and schools have not produced vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We pay poorly catechized secular teachers a much higher wage than their religious predecessors earned. That cost is passed on in much higher tuition. And the faith is not passed on in these schools. The Church is not being renewed by ranks of fervent young graduates from our own schools.

And, please, again with all due respect, don't point out the big money schools with their service-project Catholicism mentality, unless you can point out orthodox Catechesis, theology and morality promoted there.

Why is it that when you scratch a Catholic high school or college grad you discover a Eco-worshipping, same-sex marriage-tolerating, pro-choice-voting, Mass-skipping typical young person who is distinguishable from their worldly counterparts only by the need to publicly apologize for certain embarrassing tenets of their own faith?

Yes, I have painted a bleak picture here, and not all is bleak. There are exceptions and success stories, and it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Yes, I know. But work with me here, and acknowledge the basic picture as more or less accurate.

Which gets me to today's story at STLToday. It seems that some well-wishers of St. Elizabeth's want to "save" it as a charter school. Certainly, as an educational option in the City school district, this could be laudable, but for the Catholic girls currently educated there, what exactly is being saved? Not their religion, not their religious instruction, not their formation.

The buildings, yes, just like the Epiphany charter school transition. But what else?

The story and even the new proposed name (Service Ethics Academics Academy) make it clear-- it's about social action dolled up with vague spirituality (or "ethics") and doing its best to compete with what passes for secular "academics".

But isn't this what Catholic schools have been offering for decades already anyway? Hey, maybe they are really saving the school.

Is there a market for Catholic education? And can it be offered?

From the full story:

St. Elizabeth Academy could see new life as charter school

When Nicole Trueman-Shaw heard that her alma mater, the city’s second-oldest Catholic high school, would close, her heart sank.

That night, she began talking with other alumnae of the school about a way to save St. Elizabeth Academy. What has developed is a plan to transform it into what would eventually be a charter school, leaving behind its roots in Catholic education.

To do so, supporters must raise $750,000 by June 1 to cover the costs of 2013-14 — a bridge year in which the school will remain a private school while founders complete the charter application process that would lead to public funding.


The new school would be called SEA Academy, or Service Ethics Academics Academy. This fall, SEA Academy would open as a private, college preparatory school for girls with a low tuition commitment, Trueman-Shaw says.

Although it would not be a Catholic school, it would still offer an all-girls, college-preparatory education with a strong foundation in service to others, character education and leadership, founders say.

Debbie Lowry, an alumna and parent of a freshman and sophomore at St. Elizabeth, said her daughters were hoping to attend the new school and were helping with fundraising.

“They all felt like SEA is home. The diversity, everyone is accepted for who they are,” she said.

She said the new school would include community service requirements for students, which is included in Catholic education, although daily prayer and other religious practices will disappear.

But to some parents, the strength of St. Elizabeth Academy is its Catholic education.

“To many of us, St. Elizabeth’s is important first and foremost because it is Catholic,” said Thom Pancella, a parent. “When it closes after this academic year, that will go away. A charter school simply cannot do that.”



Long-Skirts said...

"St. Elizabeth Academy. What has developed is a plan to transform it into what would eventually be a charter school, leaving behind its roots in Catholic education"


And where are the schools
The daily Mass
Lines to confess
A uniformed lass?

And where are the schools
The Latin class
Cassocked priest
Candles in brass?

And where are the schools
To strengthen souls
Shape their wills
Set the goals?

And where are the schools
The altar boy
Assisting priest
Like Christ their joy?

And where are the schools
Oh, time you lied
Two generations
Have gone and died.

And where are the schools
Which don’t derive
That two plus two
Are sometimes five?

They’re found in large
Where struggling families
Let priest take charge

For the good of the whole
Priests’ lives are laid
So many may come
Not be afraid.

And win the Faith
From Christ-like hand
St. Pie the Tenth
Two and two are grand!!

Anonymous said...

I am a local Catholic pastor...

and you are so right!

The first and most important thing about a Catholic school is that it is CATHOLIC.

Any attempt to save a building, or an ethos, or a memory, or even "values" without Christ's Church is probably just sentimentality...

not Faith!

Anonymous said...

I think the reference to "lighting a candle" warrants some more discussion. Solving an issue does, indeed, require first describing it. But since the state of Catholic education has been a topic on this blog for a long time, there comes a point where we have to ask "What are we, as individuals, going to do about it?" We can assert that the bishop should do this or that, but he is one man.

I'm afraid I have not heard one school ever mentioned in these comments that meets the orthodoxy standard of the group, so I have to ask: What, then, are we going to do to grow a zealous Catholicism in Catholic schools? Alternatively, is anyone looking at trying to establish a truly affordable and orthodox school, given the large families in a number of more traditional parishes?

Bryan Kirchoff
St. Louis

Anonymous said...

Shame on me for lecturing before opening the link one-third of the way above in the post. Had I done that first, I would have found exactly the kind of discussion I was talking about. Sorry for my premature huff.

Bryan Kirchoff
St. Louis

P. S. So now the question becomes: What needs to be done to take these ideas to the next level?

X said...

What's it all about, Alfie?

SJ said...

We can start by speaking truth to power with respect to those who run the "Catholic" schools. This is not an easy thing to do but we must. We need to stand together and demand that Catholic schools deliver. I have spent many years fighting this battle and most people think that you are crazy to fight those battles. We shouldn't continue to pay tuition to schools that don't even come close to teaching the tenants of our Catholic faith. Most of our Catholic schools are a disaster. However, I will say that Priory has done a wonderful job teaching authentic Catholicism and catechizing my son.

Jackie said...

Law #1: The Law of the Lid.

Look it up.