Serving the Underserved in Catholic Schools

Rev. Joseph Corpora, C.S.C., wrote this piece for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Blog in honor of Catholic Education Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1.

Fr. Corpora is director of university-school partnerships at the Alliance of Catholic Education at the Univesity of Notre Dame.

Access to Catholic Schools by Underserved Populations
By Fr. Joseph Corpora, C.S.C.

Father Joseph Corpora

For the most part, parish schools were founded by religious women from dozens of religious communities, who for love of their Lord left their homelands to come to the United States to serve immigrants and their children. They loved their faith, had experienced its saving power in their own lives, and wanted to pass it on to the next generation.

So successful was this endeavor that, without envisioning it, the Church in the United States produced the world’s largest “private” school system. And everywhere the Church did this, parish life thrived, children of immigrants were taught, and those children grew up to become good citizens for heaven and for earth. These children – Irish, Poles, Germans, Italians, Lithuanians, and more – came from humble roots economically. Their Catholic education put them directly on the road to fuller participation in American economic and civic life.

Today Latinos are the greatly underserved population. Depending on the data that one looks at, somewhere between 44 and 55 of 100 Latino children in public school kindergarten will receive a high school diploma and 12 of those 100 will earn a college degree. Of 100 Latino children who go to Catholic school, 96 will receive a high school diploma and 25 will earn a college degree.

We have a historic opportunity now to repeat history for the Latino population. Latinos are the nation’s fastest growing school age population and the least likely to graduate from high school. More than 70 percent of practicing Catholics in the United States under the age of 35 are Latinos. This is the future of the Church, and in many places, it is the current reality.

The Church needs to make Catholic education accessible to the Latino population. Latinos will be the future leaders in parishes and in dioceses. Latinos will be the presidents of the parish pastoral councils and of the school advisory councils. Latinos are the future employees of our parishes and schools. They are the future leaders of much more than the Church. We need to provide them with the same opportunities and possibilities that we provided for the children of European immigrants.

Latinos will respond to this invitation. They will welcome the opportunity for a faith-centered education. They are coming to know that the cities and towns they live in, in the United States do not evangelize in the same way they did in their countries of origin. They need schools to help with this task. They want their children to know their faith, to remain Catholic and to have the opportunity for a better life. They will remain loyal to the faith.

The Church must figure out ways to make Catholic schools accessible and affordable to Latinos. The challenge is huge for Church leaders today. They must develop and implement strategies to bring Latinos into Catholic schools. It is a moral obligation for today’s church. Everyone will win. Latinos will be given a first-rate Catholic education. They will become leaders in society and in the Church. Our schools will thrive. Our parishes will become more vibrant. And would it be too much to say that, through these efforts, we will renew the face of the earth?

Father Joseph Corpora is a Holy Cross priest and director of university-school partnerships in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), based at the University of Notre Dame, and working to build partnerships with schools and dioceses as leader of ACE’s Catholic School Advantage campaign. The initiative’s goal: To double the percentage of Latinos who send their children to Catholic elementary and secondary schools by 2020.

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