Catholic Schools Closures Double Amid COVID-19 Restrictions

Catholic Schools Closures Double Amid COVID-19 Restrictions Catholic Schools Closures Double Amid COVID-19 Restrictions Students attend an in-person English class at St. Anthony Catholic High School during the Covid-19 pandemic on March 24, 2021 in Long Beach, California.. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

By Brian Trusdell | Monday, 10 May 2021 06:22 PM

More than 200 Catholic schools across the country have closed in the past year and more are expected this summer as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has left many families unable to pay the tuition and forced the institutions to take to online funding drives or shutter their doors, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Enrollment, which has been falling for decades, saw a 6.4% decline at the beginning of the school year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the largest single-year drop since it began keeping records in the 1970s, the Journal said.

At least 209 of 6,000 Catholic schools closed in the past year, about double the rate in a typical recent year. Those in cities have been particularly hardest hit, with enrollment down 12% in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 11% in the Archdiocese of New York.

The Boston archdiocese closed 11 of its 111 schools.

“They were serving populations that were hardest hit by the economic shutdown,” according to Archdiocese of Boston superintendent Tom Carroll.

Previously, dioceses were able to supplement tuition and other revenue, but with many cities and states banning in-person worship services, church donations plunged, leaving the networks of parishes unable to help.

“Because all entities of the Catholic church were under extraordinary stress at the same time, nobody could bail anybody out,” Carroll said.

Catholic schools re-opened faster than public schools, with 85% returning to in-person instruction in the fall, the NCEA said, which increased enrollment by 1.6%, but it was not enough to overcome the earlier losses.

The COVID-19 outbreak compounded a trend that has been ongoing since the 1970s.

About 4.4 million students attended Catholic schools in 1970, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Catholic social-science research institute at Georgetown University. Almost all of the students then were Catholics, and classes were often taught by priests, nuns or members of male religious orders, who were compensated far less than their public-school counterparts.

Today, enrollment has dropped to 1.6 million, according to the NCEA, 80% which are Catholic. Lay teachers have almost completely replaced religious instructors, which has increased the cost. Though religious instruction remains a core piece of Catholic education, Mass is no longer a daily requirement.

“Education is not simply about educating a mind but is about forming a human spirit,” said Paul Escala, superintendent of the Los Angeles archdiocese’s schools.

The drop in enrollment also coincides with the lower percentage of those who identify as Catholic in the U.S. population. In 2007, 24% of the U.S. was Catholic, which has dropped to 20% according a 2019 Pew Research Center study.