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Catholic School Closings: Causes & Culture

In 1964, at Annunciation grade school in south Minneapolis, there were over 120 students in the eighth grade, divided into three classes. All three were taught by Dominican Sisters. Now there are 40 students in the eighth grade at Annunciation and the sisters are gone.


This is almost good news compared to the fate of many other Catholic schools. The area between Annunciation and downtown Minneapolis tells the tale: St. Margaret’s Academy closed and merged with Benilde in 1974; Basilica, closed 1975; Incarnation, closed 1982; Regina (all girls) high school, closed 1987; Visitation, closed 2008. Similar closings occurred throughout the metro area and across the state, and in small towns and big cities across the United States. Why?


The short answer is that Catholics did not evangelize the culture: they were evangelized by the culture. It seems the zeitgeist (spirit of the times), the confusion that occurred after Vatican II (1962-1965) and the resurgence of the heresy of Modernism (aka “pick and choose,” or subjective Catholicism) all played a role.


This zeitgeist was due, in part, to the godless Humanistic education purveyed in public schools. These words from the 1930 book, Humanism: A New Religion, come to mind: “Education is thus a most important ally of Humanism, and every public school is a school of Humanism. What can the theistic Sunday schools, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”(p. 128) The “sexual revolution” also played a role. As the “Sexual Revolution,” a term coined by the sex-obsessed Marxist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich in 1936, progressed in the 1960’s, some began to wonder whether they were “sexually repressed,” and an era of libertinism began. In 1968, the fear-mongering book, The Population Bomb, was published, leading many Catholics to believe that the morally responsible thing to do was to contracept, and have at most two children. Not only the laity, but even priests, bishops and consecrated religious succumbed to the gravitational pull of secular humanism.


In the Church, many events occurred in short order: On July 17, 1967, the Oath Against Modernism, which had, since 1910, been required of "all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries," was rescinded, leading some to believe that Modernism was now okay. On July 23, 1967, the Land O’ Lakes Conference, organized by the President of Notre Dame, Fr. Hesburgh, issued a Statement declaring that Catholic universities no longer considered themselves bound by “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself,” and the betrayal of their Catholic identities began. (Note: then Father, later Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick was a signer of this statement.) On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humane Vitae, which re-affirmed Catholic teaching regarding married love, responsible parenthood, and the rejection of contraception. Immediately, some priests and bishops publicly objected to it, suffered no consequences, and didn’t teach it, leading many laity to erroneously conclude that they did not sin when they acted contrary to this teaching.


The results were disastrous. With confidence in their Catholic faith shaken, men and women left religious life; fewer young men and women entered. With no sisters or brothers teaching, and Catholic couples contracepting, it cost more to operate a Catholic school and there were fewer students to enroll. Schools closed.


In 1977, Leo Pfeffer, a lawyer who had argued in the Supreme Court against any government funding of Catholic schools wrote an article titled “The Triumph of Secular Humanism.” He attributed this triumph, in part, to “the spirit… of Vatican II…” He continued, “Notwithstanding a papal decree reaffirming the traditional Catholic doctrine…Catholics… probably practice contraception as freely as non-Catholics… This change of position… reflects the influence of secular humanism.”


Efforts to build a just society without God are doomed to failure. Catholics must show the way, not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of civilization. These efforts must include prayer, daily Mass if possible, Eucharistic adoration, support for Catholic education, learning the faith, evangelizing, a willingness to suffer, and cheerfulness founded on Christian hope. On the political front, we should insist, as economist Milton Friedman advocated years ago, that any government funding for education should go not to the schools, but to the student, or his parents, so that they, not government bureaucrats, choose the education the student will receive.


Please continue to support your station through prayer, by telling others, offering suggestions, by inquiring whether you may place program guides in your church’s literature rack, or volunteering, and a financial contribution if possible.


Viva Christo Rey!