It is beginning to dawn on American Catholics that their schools "aren't what they used to be." The decline of Catholic education — on several vital levels — is indisputable.
Since 1970, the number of Catholic elementary schools has declined by nearly 50%. During the same period, the number of children attending those schools declined more rapidly, by 65%. By 1970, religious were fleeing their vocations, and lay teachers, not always well catechized, took their place.
Bishop Joseph Strickland: "The teachers are with us, but they need to be strengthened and supported. It's got to be a whole culture in the school. One thing we are looking at is a real leadership position that is about Catholic identity."
The shortage of religious remains unchanged. In March, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported, "79% of responding religious institutes had no one entering religious life in 2020."
Bishop Joseph Strickland, well aware of the challenges, is addressing the need for education reform head-on.
Strickland: "My hope is to start with the generation presently in our Catholic schools here in the diocese and really start turning that around and sharing the challenging — but joyful — good news of Jesus Christ."
Joining Strickland are other Catholics establishing schools independent of a diocese. One example is The Lyceum in Ohio. Headmaster Luke Macik explains the school's purpose.
Luke Macik: "Let us be among the few who take this narrow and difficult way of liberal education, for it is an essential part of bringing America back to life, a divine life of knowing and loving all that is good, true and beautiful."
Catholics are not only waking up to the dismal state of Catholic education; they recognize the urgency. The CARA report finds that an important predictor of whether someone will choose a religious vocation is whether he attended Catholic schools.
Strengthening Catholic education will develop more spiritually mature Catholics, and could have the added benefit of increasing vocations.