Interview with OCA Primate; Parochial schools

An interesting brief talk with Metropolitan HERMAN (Swaiko) by the newspaper of the OCA’s Archdiocese of Canada addresses succinctly his views on Orthodoxy here, and ‘Why Orthodoxy at all?’:

“The Orthodox Church is the light of faith in the Word of God in the darkness of whimsical opinions, the pillar of morality amidst the quicksand of relativist societies. Our purpose is to transform the modern world, rather than conform to it, as the Scripture tells us.”

I’m intrigued to hear him promote parochial schools too. I’m a product of Latin parochial schools, and know at least some Eastern Catholic parishes have had them as well. I also know that in the Catholic Church in the U.S. parochial schools are seen as in trouble because of increasing costs and shrinking enrollment, though I haven’t researched why this is – fewer religious Sisters to teach and support for little money, and the end of the Baby Boom?? And I believe OCA parishes tend to have 100-200 households or fewer, a fraction of many Latin parishes; what about getting Orthodox parishes of numerous jurisdictions in a vicinity to collaborate on a shared school? There are also other models available today than the traditional Catholic parochial school, such as what might be called ‘joint homeschooling,’ co-operative schools, cyberschools, etc. Just brainstorming here.

Years ago Andrew Greeley discovered that graduates of Latin parochial schools tended to give more money to that Church as adults than Latin graduates of public schools, even alumni of the weekly religious ed programs called CCD. Or as he put it – ‘half-jest and full earnest’ – parochial schools were profit centers – data not widely accepted by U.S. Catholic bishops, he complains. I think it’s fair to say he believes they’ve been overcome by an ill-advised form of ‘political correctness’ opposed to parish schools for some reason.

Perhaps I should clarify two things. First, when I’m talking about “Latin schools” here, I mean parish schools of the Latin Church, not, for instance, this place. Secondly, the parochial schools Greeley and I are talking about were comprehensive educational institutions, September thru June, Monday thru Friday, 8am-3pm, all typical elementary educational subjects (Kindergarten or 1st Grade thru 8th), not just Religion, and actually very little ancestral-homeland culture, and in my experience, no languages besides English. Just ‘normal education’ in a faith context. (This would apply to pan-ethnic parishes, ie, most Latin Church parishes in this country from my childhood and still today. Ethnic parishes – whether ‘old ethnic’ ones like Polish and Italian, or newer ones like Latino or Asian here in the Northeast – might emphasize their ethnic culture more, I’m not certain. However, even in my theoretically-pan-ethnic school – mostly Irish, Poles, Italians, and Germans – we were taught a little about these and other cultures, usually around holiday traditions.) One might place them in-between public schools and “private schools” / academies. They didn’t aspire to extraordinary academic greatness like the latter, but did alright by us generally anyway. (Statistically, Irish Catholics have been the best-educated non-Jewish group in the U.S. for at least a century!) They were located right in the neighborhood or community where the parishioners lived, usually right on or near the parish grounds. School life included weekly class Masses during Advent and Lent, all-school Masses on First Fridays and other occasions, altar servers being released from class for weekday Masses and funerals, days-off for Holydays of Obligation as days of rest and attendance at Mass (comparable to Orthodox Great Feasts), “pagan babies,” the Rosary, Stations of the Cross during Lent, First Confession and Communion classes (1st-2nd Grades), Confirmation class (4th Grade then), memorized Questions and Answers cribbed from the old Baltimore Catechism combined with a Vatican II ‘brand new attitude'(!), morning prayers, lunchtime Angelus and Grace Before Meals, class visits by the parish priests and sometimes other priests and Religious, as well as other religious and secular activities. There was also a little bit of promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, yielding just in the last generation or two, one bishop, at least one missionary priest to East Africa (keep in mind the celibacy requirement), and at least two short-lived other vocations – one of whom ended up an Orthodox layman. 😉

My parochial school in Philadelphia charged no tuition as such to parishioners while I was there in the early-mid 1970s, completely supported by all parishioners and not only those with children currently enrolled – and these were working-class folks, few if any wealthy. Later they felt they had to start charging tuition on top of the parishioner support, very small at first, growing into hundreds, then a couple thousand, dollars; at the same time their Sisters’ community shrank to nothing, replaced mostly by laywomen and men with their own residences and expenses and sometimes families, and not professing a Vow of Poverty. Currently its basic costs seem to be around $4,000.00 per year. For comparison purposes, the same rate at a nearby Catholic academy seems to be around $9,500.00, so even now, the parochial school is running less than half the cost to students of the truly “private” school.

Here in the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia (the five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania) the parochial schools were theoretically open to non-Catholics in the ’70s if not before, at that time charging them tuition closer to actual cost, saying that as “non-parishioners” they didn’t have the opportunity to support the school indirectly through Sunday collections and such. Since then, especially in parts of the City, as Catholics moved to the suburbs, non-Catholic enrollment grew, and the schools were also seen as a community service ministry, a relatively affordable quality alternative to the public schools; I believe they continued to teach Catholic Religion classes, because they always had, but without knowingly pressuring non-Catholic children to convert. As the non-Catholics of their communities, generally poorer Protestant African-Americans, increased in their enrollment, some scholarship funding was raised at some times and places; sometimes partnerships were established with better-off suburban parishes, area corporations, and other benefactors. But the truth be told, Philadelphia has not been completely immune from the wave of parochial school closures and consolidations seen elsewhere in the U.S. Catholic Church in the last decade or so; as you can see on their website, my own alma mater has been merged with several nearby parishes’ schools, and one or two of them have been closed in the process. (One slated for closure, belonging to an ethnic Polish parish – canonically completely under the control of the local Archbishop – appealed to Polish Pope John Paul II anyway, and was ‘saved.’)

BTW, by the time I entered parochial school, it really had stopped being the “horror story” you hear about from Baby Boomers, mostly. Say what you will about Vatican II, it provided a healthful-feeling breath of fresh air to many quarters of the Latin Church.

One other thing: Philadelphia has a historical claim to having invented the Catholic parochial school system. The See’s 4th bishop, St. John Neumann (1852-60), spearheaded the establishment of dozens of parish elementary schools in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as the adoption of similar school systems in other dioceses throughout the U.S. IIRC, in the 1970s most of the more than 300 parishes of this Archdiocese – by then taking in just the five counties (the rest spun-off into their own dioceses) – had schools. They are considered a system because they have a single diocesewide superintendant of schools (currently a layman with a doctorate) and central administration, here not unlike a sizable public school district. In fact – here’s a childhood memory – they used to close for snow only all together – even if the hills of Manayunk where I lived – William Penn thought of them as Little Switzerland – were far harder to navigate than the flatlands elsewhere – and less often than the city public schools! (Grrr! 😉 ) As you can see at the link, each school is not left to fend for itself, reinvent the wheel, etc. But each school remains parochial because of its vital and necessary relationship to one or more local parishes and their clergy, staff, parishioners, and liturgical and prayer-life, as I’ve outlined above. They’re not just outposts of the Archdiocesan Chancery or Cardinal’s Office or something, like most public school systems are of the Board of Ed, Superintendant’s Office, or City Hall. Fr. Greeley points to “social capital,” the way that Catholic communities (neighborhoods, or more mobile suburban social ‘communities of choice’), parishes, and schools, all serving the same group of people, join forces to reinforce Catholic faith in them. (And don’t believe what some say; Catholics have been consistently about a quarter of the U.S. population for at least a century; they’re not losing ground … myself and my godmother excepted of course!)

Advertisements



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: