25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Catholic schools

Bruce Watson

There was a time when parochial schools seemed almost omnipresent, when the daily migration of kids in plaid clothes seemed to fill every street. However, with enrollments plummeting and one school after another closing its doors, the torrent of Catholic school kids has become a trickle, and it looks like the days of Catholic education may well be numbered.

For many Americans, Catholic education is a painful, if fondly-remembered, rite of passage. Whether they did their time in local parish schools or more prominent prep schools, the standard uniforms of jumpers and kilts, Peter Pan collars and ties, sweaters and blazers are permanently branded on their memories. Speaking as somebody who could once recite the Angelus and Memorarae, and who got extra credit for memorizing some of the hundreds of names for Mary (Star of the Sea, Our Lady of the Snows...), I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this decline.

When it comes to Catholic education in America, the numbers are downright startling. In 1965, approximately half of all Catholic families sent their kids to parochial schools; today, roughly 15% do so. While there are numerous reasons for this, the big one seems to be that the cost of parochial school has vastly increased.