The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting Catholic education hard as more than 100 elementary and high schools have announced they are shuttering.
The closings affect both parish schools and those run by religious orders. “It’s not a pretty picture right now,” said Sr Dale McDonald, public policy director of the National Catholic Educational Association, who predicted that number could double by the beginning of the next school year in September.
“Schools are not just buildings. They represent communities that provide important faith formation for our children,” said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsbrugh, announcing the closing of two schools in his diocese. “I pray that we will be able to come together in the midst of these changes to be grateful for what we have, and to continue to be good stewards of what we are able to utilize to provide Catholic education to our communities.”
He added: “Sadly, with funding sources critically reduced due to the impact of the global pandemic, we do not have the ability to financially sustain every one of our school buildings.”
Some schools are among the country’s oldest Catholic establishments. Baltimore’s Institute of Notre Dame was started in 1847 and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is an alumna. It will not reopen in September, nor will Immaculate Conception Cathedral School in Memphis, Tennessee, a school that has served that city for 98 years.
In northern New Jersey, 10 Catholic schools are closing, including Cristo Rey Newark High School, which opened in the inner city in 2007 and has placed every graduate in college. “This is a crucial time for the sustainability and success of our Catholic schools,” said Cardinal Joseph W Tobin, Archbishop of Newark. “However, the Archdiocese could not ignore the dual threats of declining enrolment and rapidly increased subsidies that were necessary to sustain every school.”
Catholic schools have long felt financial pressure amidst rising costs and shifting demographics. Now, with millions unemployed, and great uncertainty about the future, parents are understandably reluctant to pay tuition which averages US$5,000 for an elementary education and US$11,000 for a Catholic high school. Many inner-city schools have not only provided a ticket out of poverty for poor children, many of them non-Catholic, but they create enormous social capital in the neighbourhoods they serve.