CELEBRATING CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK
By Bro. Stanley Culotta, CSC, MD
Published in TODAY’S CATHOLIC
January 24, 2014
In remembering the joys, sorrows, pride and accomplishments of our years in Catholic schools, we remember that Catholic schools have been an integral part of the lives of millions of families for more than 200 years. When children are enrolled in Catholic schools, the feelings of loyalty and belonging extend to the entire family. Families attend fundraising activities. Families volunteer for the parents’ clubs, for booster clubs, for social events, athletic games and for other extracurricular activities. Parents meet parents, and families meet families! All the emotions and memories nurtured by these years in Catholic schools are remembered and relived during Catholic Schools Week.
These personal feelings and reflections would have less meaning were it not for the dedication and energy Catholics have expended to keep Catholic schools in existence. Major obstacles have been overcome. Anti-Catholic prejudice in Europe followed the early immigrants to the United States; and anti-Catholic sentiment became very open and harsh in 1875, with the following proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution by Representative James G. Blaine:
“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund thereto, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”
Although this proposed amendment failed to pass, comparable amendments were added to many state constitutions including the Texas Constitution. The Texas version is as follows:
Tex. Const. art. 1, § 7: “No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”
Needless to say this amendment continues to be a battle cry for many Texas State Legislators who oppose school choice, especially those legislators who are controlled by various unions.
Only a few years later, in 1922, the state of Oregon amended its compulsory school attendance law. This amended law required children between the ages of eight and sixteen years to attend public schools. As a result, attending a Catholic school was illegal, because it did not fulfill the public school compulsory attendance law. This new law was challenged by the Society of Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary. In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Oregon law to be unconstitutional. Once again, students could attend Catholic schools and satisfy the compulsory school attendance law.
It is impossible to speak of Catholic education without mentioning the contributions of the many congregations of Sisters. Although education was, and for many congregations, still is their major ministry, we cannot fail to include their hospitals, their orphanages, their social services, their monasteries and their many related charitable works. So it is no surprise that the Sisters opposed the Oregon law; and it is no surprise that they won the case!
The United States is a country of immigrants. It is estimated that 40% of U.S. citizens can verify that one of their ancestors entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. Many were Catholics, poor and uneducated. Among the immigrants were Sisters, Brothers and Priests, who were able to provide education and other services to immigrants in their native languages. This enabled these early immigrants to rapidly ascend the social ladder and become loyal, productive citizens. These immigrants were ethnically varied, but so were the Sisters, Brothers and Priests who came from different countries. Despite these ethnic differences, their Catholic heritage bonded them together.
The United States is still very much an immigrant country. No longer are the newcomers mostly from Europe; and they no longer pass through Ellis Island. However, they are very similar to earlier European immigrants; they are Catholic, poor and uneducated. Unfortunately, they do not have Sisters, Brothers and Priests to receive them and offer them a Catholic education. Many Catholic schools have closed; and, at remaining Catholic schools, tuition is unaffordable for many.
With school choice, more schools would remain open and tuition would become affordable to many more students. The Blaine amendment of 1875 and the Oregon public school law of 1922 were unsuccessful. However, their anti-Catholic intentions are being fulfilled here in the 21st century as students are forced, by the lack of school choice, to bypass Catholic schools and attend public schools.
In “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium,” the Catholic school is called the “heart of the Church.” True to that reference, Catholic schools have taken the front line to defend freedom and preserve our founding culture. Although there are fewer Catholic schools, they still are the pathway for students to become loyal and productive citizens. Catholic schools are the bulwark in opposition to the socialistic belief that education can only be provided by free government schools. It can truly be said that Catholic schools are protectors of freedom and the U.S. Constitution. Thank you, Catholic schools!