Catholic Parochial Schools in Serious Trouble


More than a third of parochial schools in the United States closed between 1965 and 1990, and enrollment has fallen by more than half.

Over two-thirds of Catholic elementary and middle schools are in the Northeast and Midwest. Last year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed one-fifth of its elementary schools. Catholic high schools have held on, but their long-term future is in question.

This isn’t for want of students. Almost 30 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists, even after sharp tuition increases over the past decade. The American Catholic population has grown by 45 percent since 1965. Hispanics, who are often underserved by public schools, account for about 45 percent of American Catholics and an even higher proportion of Catholic children, but many cannot afford rising fees. Much of the money has gone to paying for a growing staff: about 170,000 laypeople, priests and members of religious orders, including some unpaid volunteers, responsible for more than 17,000 parishes.  Thirty percent of American parishes report operating deficits, but there is no systemic means for wealthier dioceses and parishes to help poorer ones — and to stave off self-defeating tuition increases.

After finances, personnel is the biggest challenge. Once upon a time, nuns ran the parish schools. There has been a decrease in women becoming nuns so the church schools have become increasingly dependent on a lay staff.

Without an overhaul of money and personnel, the future of Catholic education is grim. Since 1990, the church has closed almost 1,500 parishes. Most were small, but big-city parochial schools are now being closed.