Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

We’re doing something wrong

September 3rd, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

I tell my relatives and best friends, “If you want your children to fight for their faith, send them to public school. If you want them to lose their faith, send them to Catholic school.”*

A two-year, $1 M study of “nearly 2,500 American high school graduates between the ages of 24-39” was recently conducted by Cardus (a Canadian group that describes itself as “a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture”) in partnership with the University of Notre Dame.  The study examined “43 different categories of academic, spiritual and civic life,” with graduates of public, Catholic, private (both religious and secular) and home-school programs being surveyed.  The results were published last week.

So how did Catholic high school graduates fare, compared to all their counterparts?  Well, if secular measures are important to you, the answer would be “Pretty well.”  But if you are a parent (or grandparent) who believes he is paying for a solid Catholic education, “Buyer beware!” might be a more appropriate answer.

For instance, the study determined that, compared to their public high school counterparts, Catholic high graduates were  “less likely to believe in moral absolutes, to respect the authority of the Catholic Church, to believe in the infallibly of Scripture or to condemn premarital sex.”

A story on the survey goes on to report,

“In many cases, the difference in outcomes between Catholic and Protestant Christian schools is striking,” the study states. “Catholic schools provide superior academic outcomes, an experience that translates into graduates’ enrollment in more prestigious colleges and universities, more advanced degrees and higher household income.

“At the same time, however, our research finds that the moral, social and religious dispositions of Catholic school graduates seem to run counter to the values and teachings of the Catholic church,” the study concludes. “For example, students graduating from Catholic schools divorce no less than their public school counterparts, and significantly more than their Protestant Christian and non-religious private school peers. Similarly, having attended Catholic school has no impact on the frequency with which those graduates will attend church services, and Catholic school graduates are less likely to serve as leaders in their churches.”

The study also found, “On every measure of traditional religious beliefs, Protestant Christian school graduates show significantly more adherence to the church teachings than their peers, findings that hold up after rigorous controls, indicating the impact of the Protestant Christian school on the long-term religious beliefs of their graduates.”

The authors of the study concluded, “Protestant Christian schools play a vital role in the long-term faith of their students, while Catholic schools seem to be largely irrelevant, sometimes even counterproductive to the development of their students’ faith.”

Other results of interest to Catholic parents include the following:

  • The net effect of Protestant and religious home education was an increase in graduates’ reported attendance at religious services, while Catholic and non-religious private school grads reported a decrease in attendance.
  • Protestant and religious home educated graduates showed a net increase in belief in the Bible as an infallible guide for personal life and behavior, that premarital sex is wrong and that divorce is wrong, while Catholic and non-religious private schooling showed a net decrease in these beliefs.
  • Catholic schools – whose administrators also reported to Cardus a higher emphasis than their Protestant peers on academic achievement – produced more graduates attending top 20 universities and significantly more attending Carnegie Research I and II universities.

The Cardus team again summarized their findings: “This research finds that Catholic schools are providing higher quality intellectual development, at the expense of developing students’ faith and commitment to religious practices. Protestant Christian schools, conversely, are providing a place where students become distinct in their commitment to faith, but are not advancing to higher education any more than their public school peers. Graduates of Catholic schools and non-religious private schools show a significant advantage in years of education, while Protestant Christian school graduates have statistically identical attainment levels as their public school peers. Additionally, graduates of Protestant Christian schools attend less competitive colleges than both their Catholic and non-religious private school peers.”

The researchers suggested the differences between Catholic and Protestant schools may be directly tied to the institutions’ priorities, as measured by an included survey of over 150 private school administrators in the U.S. and Canada.

“These outcomes closely reflect the values reported by school administrators,” the study concludes. “While Catholic school administrators rank university as the top priority more than any other option, more Protestant Christian school administrators rank family as the top emphasis of the school.”

Full story here.

Cardus report here.


*This quote is widely attributed to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (see here, for example), although I have been unable to determine from which of His Excellency’s many books, homilies, TV shows, speeches, etc. it comes.

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12 Responses to “We’re doing something wrong”

  1. Susan of Corning says:

    Mike, very interesting stats. Does the report discuss how many of the Catholic high school graduates were actually Catholic when they attended? In the Southern Tier, as the price tag of the Catholic high school increased (and one local school district went downhill), the attendees tended to be wealthier and not necessarily Catholic. I think of the high school as more of a private school, rather than a Catholic one.

  2. christian says:

    On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher who teaches in a Catholic School, whether it be at the elementary, junior high, or high school level, does not need not be a practicing Catholic in good standing; does not need to be a Catholic, a Christian, or a member of any faith, or have any belief in God.

    I had one son made fun of by peers at the lunch table for praying before eating-at a Catholic school! (Junior High) I was furious that praying before meals was considered to be so alien at a Catholic school. I talked to a nun in charge at the school and she told me all the students were suppose to be praying together in the last class they had before lunch. When I questioned my son, he told me they never pray before lunch in that class.

    When I talked to the teacher of that class, she told me that they did not have time to pray before lunch. I stated that thanking God for our food was natural and basic routine. When I questioned why a short prayer could not be said before dismissing the class; surely they had time for a quick prayer; she went into a defensive tirade of all the course material she fit into her Science class before lunch. She told me they were too busy to pray.
    His Science teacher struck me as a very logical, scientific person with no inclination toward prayer or religion. My impression was, that since that Science teacher did not take time to pray herself and probably did not follow any religious practice, she did not institute any of it with her class.

    I had an ongoing conversation with the nun in charge to why prayer was considered so strange in a Catholic school. I questioned why we should spend so much money on a Catholic education if the environment was no different than a public school.

    Many of the teachers at that school were great, as well as the support staff. But I think it is difficult for administrators to enforce Catholic practices to be carried out by teachers who are not Catholic, or even Christian, or of any faith, and at best, are agnostic.

    My son continued to pray at the lunch table before eating his lunch. Prayer was not the only thing lacking. My son was upset at the very raunchy, graphic, inappropriate, vulgar sexual remarks made in his presence or to him, by young men at that school, which was extremely offensive and upsetting.

    My son did not want to go to a Catholic High School after that. We would have been glad to pay the money had he wanted to go. But under the circumstances, we were just as happy not to have to spend all that money on Catholic education which wasn’t that Catholic.

    My son noted that no one made fun of him for praying at the lunch table before eating at a public high school. My son also noted that he was not exposed to same very raunchy, graphic, inappropriate, vulgar sexual remarks and offensive actions by other male students at a public high school. My son said other students were more accepting and tolerate of other students’ religious practices. My son considered the students in general to be more Christian than many of students, the young men particularly, from his previous school which was Catholic.

  3. Mike says:


    You make an interesting point. I’ve scanned through the report and don’t recall seeing a distinction made between Catholic and non-Catholic graduates of Catholic schools. (You can check for yourself: I’ve moved a copy of the report to our server, as the Cardus site frequently hangs when you try to get it from them.)

    Re non-Catholics attending Catholic high schools: We’ve see the same phenomenon in at least some of our Monroe County Catholic high schools. Aquinas, for example, reports that 28% of its student body is non-Catholic and McQuaid says that 30% of its students are non-Catholic. Bishop Kearney doesn’t have a number on its website but I know from having two grandchildren recently attend there that the percentage of non-Catholic students is not insignificant. As for Our Lady of Mercy, I have no idea.

    My impression from their web sites is that all of our local Catholic high schools stress academic success ahead of faith formation.

  4. Mike says:


    Thank you for sharing your experiences. It must have been a really frustrating time for your son.

    Another troubling aspect of our local Catholic high schools are the number of Catholic religion/theology teachers who got their bachelor’s and/or master’s theology-related degrees from questionably Catholic schools. Many of these schools teach dissent as a matter of course and their graduates often drink that Kool-Aid, thinking simply that it is up-to-date Catholic teaching.

  5. Hopefull says:

    James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.”

    I wonder if those teachers have any of idea of the standards to which they will be held.

    Mar 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

  6. Richard Thomas says:

    This sad story sums up Catholicism for the past 50 years. Homilies devoid of moral ethics. Very poor catechesis. No one talking about the elephant in the room: Sexual ethics and all the parameters. This is a very dusfunctional church. The leaders have betrayed their sheep. The sheep are dumbed down but unfortunately, are the ones who suffer tremendously.

  7. Eliza10 says:

    As a convert Cathoicsim, when I had to put my child in school (after homeschooling) I really wished I could put him in Catholic School. I was told by more than one intelligent, knowledgeable, faithful Diosesan Catholic that putting your child in a Diosesan Catholic School would make them lose their faith. Things I saw and keep seeing confirmed that; nothing I ever saw denied it. Otherwise, I would have done whatever it took to have him in Cahtolic School (and I did try Archangel for awhile and that truly is a Catholic education; we had to leave when he got a very, very bad (and non-Catholic) teacher (who was a new-hire, and they finally fired that teacher at the end of a very long school year for that poor class!). Now there is not only that option but St. John Bosco School, too. (The latter might be a better option for the highest grades but I don’t know how high they go yet.)

    So, it was into the “dreaded” public school system which has really been the best alternative to the very best option [home-school, which is not an option for me now] available in Rochester, considering that Bishop Clark has been so wildly successful and unrelentingly thorough in systematically secularizing our Catholic schools in his care. I certainly got cooperation from the public schools when I saw something wasn’t right. And the sports program has been a positive. And evry year, out of 5-6 teachrrs, thrre is always one exceptional teacher.

    So, better to be in a school that is clearly secular and says its secular than a school that pretends to be Catholic when its really secular. How dishonest. Dishonestly is very un-Catholic! I guess that makes the public School MORE Catholic than the Catholic!

    Once, at a Magnificat gathering, I met a wonderful local priest who was principal at Seton School. From his talk you could see he was a truly faithful, prayerful, pious man, and rich in wisdom; so unlike what I saw around the DoR! He told us he had just accepted a position as principal at Aquinas. I inquired how in the WORLD the DoR could hire such a faithful man to head Aquinas?! It was explained tht Aquinas was not part of the DoR. So, that day I set my sights on Aquinas for my child for high school! I would do whatever it took to get him there! With this priest at the helm, the faith would NOT be ignored, I was sure of that.

    Only before that coming school-year was up, in the spring I think, it was in paper that he’d been let go and replaced. I was shocked. I scoured the article for clues – and I got one. A board member explained to the paper that the new replacement-principal was a strong proponent of Aquinas Athletics… Okay, so they didn’t want a man who was not going to ignore the faith heading Aquinas. They wanted a athletics-advocate, not a faith-advocate. So I got it. Aquinas is run very much like the DoR schools. Catholic in name only. In reality, just a private school experience.

  8. Raymond F. Rice says:

    If a school is affiliated with a parish, it tends to take on the character of the parish and by extension, the pastor and Pastoral council. If the school is not affiliated with the parish, it takes on the characteristics of its board of directors and the principal they hire. That is why the choice of priests and school boards are so important.

    Some progressive schools, parishes, administrators , faculty etc. are required to make a religious retreat together each year.

  9. christian says:

    I would like to say there is a combination of non-Catholic (probably non-Christian) students in our Catholic schools and non-Catholic (probably non-Christian) teachers in our Catholic schools. There are a lot of wonderful teachers who strive to bring Catholic teaching, values, and faith traditions to children in their school. Undoubtedly, these people are practicing Catholics. But unfortunately, there are teachers who are very good academically, even excellent, but do not teach or address Catholic teaching, values, or faith traditions with their students. There are teachers like my son’s junior high Science teacher who don’t initiate prayer with their students, even if it is the school’s practice, especially before lunch time, because they are too busy to pray according to them.

    The shift has gone to academic preparation, readiness, and success and faith formation, teaching, and readiness has diminished.

  10. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Christian: The shift has gone to academic preparation, readiness, and success and faith formation, teaching, and readiness has diminished.

    Reply: the first three prepare us to make a money and a living on earth and the second three prepare us for a path to heaven. ” And the young man turned away because he had much wealth…. how can they claim to be Catholic or Christian with these priorities??

  11. christian says:

    Raymond: “How can they claim to be Catholic or Christian with these priorities?”
    I agree. That’s my point.

    Susan: I agree with your assessment that many Catholic schools are more accurately considered “private” than Catholic.

    Mike: I agree with your impression, “our local Catholic high schools stress academic success ahead of faith formation.”

    I agree with the comments of all the posters here.

    I am not sure if it has something to do with state funds in some degree, even if limited, why Catholic schools hire teachers that are not practicing Catholic or Christians (or any faith). I am sure that because vocations to the sisterhood dropped off, there were less nuns/sisters staffing Catholic schools as teachers, which created cost and drove up the cost for Catholic education.
    Although there are teachers who are very committed to a Catholic curriculum and mindset, schools in general, try to appeal to the public at large to keep themselves going. They accomplish this by putting less stress on Catholic Catechism and Values and more on Enhanced Academics and the Value of Quality Education.

  12. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Catholic school should hire Catholic teachers who are required to present the Catholic perspective on subjects. What happens to a non-catholic who refuses to teach something religious with a Catholic slant and claims discrimination if disciplined.?? Are Catholic schools exempt from recrimination ??

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