John J. DiIulio, Jr. is a Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, and Professor of Political Science, at the University of Pennsylvania.
Professor DiIulio has just published an article in the online version of America Magazine in which he presents his take on what it will take to stabilize and even grow Catholic elementary and secondary education, especially in urban areas. Although focused largely on Philadelphia, DiLiulio's ideas also have wider application.
The decades-old “crisis” is neither demographic destiny nor divine will. Catholic schools in Philadelphia and other cities can be saved, made solvent and strengthened managerially, and some long-closed schools might even be reopened. The five M’s for reviving Catholic schools are: mission, market, money, millennial and miracle.
Mission. In his address at Catholic University on April 17, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI called Catholic schools “an apostolate of hope” that must be “accessible to people of all social and economic strata.” The pope called for a renewed “commitment to schools, especially those in poorer areas.” For the mission to be sacred, the local children whose minds are fed by Catholic schools need not be Catholic any more than the overseas children whose bodies are fed by Catholic missionaries need be Catholic.
Market. Based on estimates I derive from data on a private scholarship program for low-income children, the latent demand for Catholic schooling in Philadelphia is huge. If partial tuition relief were available, some 50,000 more local parents would send their children to Catholic schools. Estimates of untapped markets in other cities are similar, and that is without even adding the large latent demand for Catholic schooling among Latino immigrant families.
Money. Government vouchers are politically improbable, but there is private money aplenty for Catholic schools. Since 1965, many Catholic colleges and universities have soared (bigger endowments, better buildings) just blocks from where many Catholic grade schools have sunk. The Catholic higher education sector needs to “adopt” and raise funds for Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Wealthy and well-positioned Catholics need to make the schools a philanthropic priority, and the bishops need to start looking to wealthy non-Catholics like those who support independent Catholic schools.
Millennial. Look to the Catholic quarter of the college-age cohort born in 1982 or later. Through programs like the amazing Alliance for Catholic Education, which is anchored at the University of Notre Dame, they are ready by the thousands to become the greatest-ever generation of Catholic school teachers and principals. The aforementioned Time story referred to the ACE as “a sort of Catholic version of Teach for America.” Actually, ACE is much better than T.F.A. I estimate that ACE yields five to 10 times as much urban teaching for every dollar invested.
Miracle. On Jan. 5, 2010, the 150th anniversary of St. John Neumann’s death, pray for him to intercede in expanding ACE and resurrecting Catholic schools in Philadelphia and nationally: “Obtain for us that complete dedication in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted and the abandoned which so characterized your life.”