My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As all of our Catholic high schools are coming close to graduation day, this may be a good opportunity to consider the network of Catholic high schools that remain in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
Our Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary has been directly under the diocese since its inception. All others, in a decision made over 40 years ago, have been sponsored either by lay boards or religious communities that were put in place at that time. This historical change was prompted by financial considerations of that era. All buildings were given to the new sponsors with the caveat that if they did not remain Catholic institutions, they would be returned to the Diocese of Brooklyn by a reverter.
Only one of these high schools, Christ the King, did not sign the reverter when it expired and we are in negotiations with them to alleviate this unfortunate situation of having to bring the matter to court. The building was built by the people of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens to serve as a regional Catholic high school.
As this article was being prepared, an unexpected closure of a Catholic high school sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood has occurred. Fortunately, there are sufficient available places in neighboring Catholic high schools to accommodate all of the students.
Our Catholic high schools are institutions of which we can be proud. Among the newest of these schools is Cristo Rey High School in Brooklyn. All of the 18 high schools maintain a Catholic identity; not always with the help of religious personnel, but with the leadership of dedicated lay faithful. These include boards, principals, teachers, staff and all others who give their time and talent to furnish a good Catholic education to our high school students.
The graduation rate of students from our high schools is over 95 percent. Almost 98 percent of graduates either go on to college or military service. Our record of graduation in Brooklyn and Queens is an outstanding one. The sacrifices of our students and the parents who must pay high tuitions are admirable. Our religious leaders of the past had given us a network of Catholic schools that will assure the practice of the faith into the future.
There was an interesting article published in The Wall Street Journal that reported “The Catholic School Difference” from the benefit of demanding a student’s self-discipline. The independent study found that Catholic high schools had a particularly good record for personal oriented education that proved beneficial to the academic performance of the students. Discipline problems were not the main focus of Catholic high school education as, unfortunately, they are in many public institutions.
These findings are not comprehensive; they did find three issues: First, schools that value and focus on self-discipline are able to achieve greater academic results since they do not have to spend time penalizing students. Second, assuming that these net results reflect a “Catholic Schools Effect,” other schools might consider replicating the type of self-discipline that is encouraged in Catholic schools. Finally, the third finding is the power of religion to positively influence the behavior of a child should not be underestimated. The report concluded with a lament that many Catholic high schools are closing.
Holding Their Own
Fortunately, at this time the Catholic high schools in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens are holding their own with certain differences that have to deal with demographic changes and the inability to pay the high tuitions necessary for maintaining the current high school education today. Brother Ralph Darmento, F.S.C., has been assigned as Deputy Superintendent of Schools for Academy Governance, Leadership and Strategic Planning. One of his key responsibilities is to assist the schools in maintaining good enrollment and coordinating collaborative programs among the schools.
One of the first initiatives I began when I came to the diocese over 15 years ago was to call together all of the Catholic high school principals and presidents to my home for an informal dinner. It was a memorable night, since there was much questioning of what the ulterior motive was for such an evening, as never before had they been invited for dinner with the Bishop. My response was to explain that I was, and still am, interested in the welfare of our Catholic high school students for many reasons. Not the least of which is that they are fertile grounds for recruiting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We have seen a variety of new collaborative programs and we will continue to assist as best we can in maintaining our Catholic high schools.
The Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens has been keenly aware of the need for new collaborative efforts between high schools, which we will continue to assist with to the best of our ability. The age of unilateral high school education in Brooklyn and Queens is yielding to joint efforts, be it providing part-time or in some cases full-time chaplains to our Catholic high schools, or providing greater marketing initiatives, or even revamping programs, the diocese offers support, material and personnel to each school. I try my best to visit at least one or two high schools each year as a way to assure our connection and care for each high school.
An Innovative Financial Model
Our innovative financial model for high school is worth mentioning; that is, Cristo Rey High School in Brooklyn that began 10 years ago inspired by Jesuit priest Father John P. Foley. These schools, part of a network of 35 schools across 22 states, exist around the country on a unique basis, as the students are placed in actual work situations one day a week and go to school four days per week.
The money that they are paid by those institutions serves as a support for the school. Parents and guardians are asked to pay a moderate tuition that they can afford. Most of the students recruited would not have an opportunity for a Catholic high school education were it not for Cristo Rey, and many would not have even graduated from high school. Their record is stellar. Again, almost 100 percent of these students gain entrance into two year or four year colleges. Their life direction is completely changed by these special programs of discipline and self-reliance instilled in them by the Cristo Rey schools.
As we see graduations occurring this time of year, we will continue to see Catholic school graduations in our diocese as these young people put out into the deep of their lives. We will accompany them with our prayers, best wishes and all financial assistance that we can give in various ways. I encourage you to support your local Catholic high school. The investment is well worth it and the results go far beyond any monetary support.