A bleak future for a saint’s legacy

Adam Emerson

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. John Neumann, a Philadelphia bishop who is credited with establishing the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. Neumann himself increased the number of Catholic schools from two to 100 in his diocese. By tomorrow, a blue ribbon committee in Philadelphia is expected to release its final report on the future of Catholic schooling in the city. And as a columnist noted in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the plan will likely recommend closing and merging many elementary and high schools.

St. Joseph University’s Robert H. Palestini explores what this portends:

Like other schools, Catholic schools benefit not just those who attend them, but all the region’s residents, by producing responsible, productive citizens. When the late William Fishman, a cofounder of the company that became Aramark, was asked why a Jewish man would devote so much of his time to the Catholic schools, he said it was a matter of “enlightened self-interest”: The products of these schools would be the employees of his and other Philadelphia companies.

We are all familiar by now with the plight of Catholic schools in Philadelphia and other large cities. For a variety of reasons, the Delaware Valley’s Catholic school enrollment has declined from more than 200,000 to about 60,000, and the future of the remaining schools is in doubt.

Providing for the continued effectiveness of these schools, especially the urban ones, was the charge given to the archdiocesan commission. Its task should also concern everyone who cares about maintaining the high quality of life in our region, reducing educational inequality, ending the cycle of poverty, and turning around America’s inner cities. There is much evidence that Catholic schools can play an important role in doing that.

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