The Future of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago

Keynote address by Archbishop Blase J. Cupich
Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast
January 27, 2015
The Future of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago
Introductory Remarks
It is very energizing for me to look around the room this morning and see so many
willing partners already invested in our Catholic Schools. All of you have my deep
admiration and gratitude, not only for attending this breakfast, but also for the
obvious commitment you have to our families, students, faculty, staff,
administrations and parishes, which make up the communities within our school
system. These first few weeks of my service as the Archbishop of Chicago have
convinced me that there is no challenge or issue facing us for which we do not have
the needed human and other resources. Your being here today steels me in that
The organizers of this event have asked me to address the topic The Future of
Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago; however, before I get into the
future, I think it is good to say a few words about the past. My aim in doing so is
to highlight how far we have come and to draw attention to the need to redouble our
efforts if we are going to be true to a proud heritage. I will end my remarks by
speaking about the opportunities and the urgency of this moment for all adults to
partner together for our children. As Catholics, this is a moment for us to adapt to
new developments and challenges with a humility that is equal to our pride in order
for our Catholic schools to build on the legacy handed on to us, a legacy that has
benefitted our faith and civic communities.
A Proud Past
We are here today because of what happened 130 years ago this past fall. The
Bishops of the United States, 75 in all, met for the Third Council of Baltimore from
November 9 to December 7, 1884, and among other things decreed the following
with regard to Catholic schools:
 Parochial schools are an absolute necessity and every parish is obliged to have
a school.
 Pastors are obligated to establish a Catholic school in their parishes.
 Parents are required to send their children to a Catholic school unless they get
permission from the bishop.
 Schools should be free if need be.
The decrees about schools from the Council of Baltimore were fairly well followed
as the rule, not just the norm, until about the early 1970s - at least that was my
experience growing up in Omaha, Nebraska. When parishes were established no
permission to build a church was given by the archbishop until the school was up
and running. I am sure many of you had the experience of attending Mass
celebrated in school halls or gyms in newly established parishes until the Church
could be built.
Of course much has changed over these 130 years; consider these comparisons: In
1884, the Catholic population numbered about 3 million; today, it’s 70 million.
There were 6,600 parishes in 1884; today, 17,900. One hundred and thirty years
ago there were 1,400 elementary schools with 405,000 students; today 1,300 high
schools with 612,000 students and 5,500 elementary schools with 1.4 million
The Present Moment
Yes, we are here because of that legacy of commitment made 130 years ago and
renewed in every generation since then. But we are also here today because we, our
Church and society, have benefited from that legacy and want to see it continue and
prosper. Undoubtedly, the world and the Church are much different than in the
days of the Baltimore Council and some of these decrees seem out of touch with
reality. Let’s start with the most obvious one. Parents are required to send their
children to Catholic schools unless they get my permission. I don’t seem to be
getting any traction on that one; I guess they didn’t get the memo!
While some aspects of these decisions by the bishops 130 years ago seem outdated,
we should focus on what is at the heart of their commitment to Catholic schools. It
was a three-fold conviction: first, that education is mediated by communities in
which the adults sacrifice and make demands of each other for the benefit of
children; second, that adults are linked to a tradition of passing on faith and
knowledge that works; and third, that there must be an intentional aim of giving
youth the tools to be the next generation of adults who will continue that legacy for
the good of the Church and society.
In short, we have an educational system not only that works but is designed to
perpetuate itself for the benefit of our faith communities and the civic order. Just
one set of figures brings home our claim that our system works and contributes to
the greater good: 95% of the children who attend our schools graduate from high
school and these graduates statistically are four times more likely to vote in
elections. That might be a wake-up call for some here today.
My point is simple. Our system of education works; it benefits society and deserves
support so that it can continue. We are proud that the Archdiocese of Chicago
school system has the largest number of National Blue Ribbon schools of any
system of schools, public or private, in the country. We are equally proud that each
year the Archdiocesan family, through the Annual Catholic Appeal and our parish
contributions, provides over $30 million dollars of financial support to our schools,
and that is beyond the good work other organizations like the Big Shoulders Fund,
religious communities, other foundations and partners are providing. Financial aid
is needed because of the large number of financially needy students we educate. We
value that diversity; it makes us better.
Tuition assistance has allowed young people in need to attend our schools. It has
given them a chance to achieve so much in the world, such as four of the nine U.S.
Supreme Court justices who attended Catholic schools, three of whom received
some form of tuition assistance.
Proud but Humble
While there is justifiable pride in how far we have come, there must be an equal
humility as we move into the future.
We are humbled that we have come so far because of the great sacrifice that
religious women have made since the early days of the Church in this country. They
built our school system and we should never forget that;
We are humbled that this legacy of sacrifice continues today in people like Katie
Olsen and her colleagues. Presently we are able to operate at lower costs,
sometimes at half the rate of other school systems, because our teachers and staff
take a fraction of the salary allotted in other school systems. They are continuing
the sacrifice begun by the religious sisters and we should not forget that either;
We are humbled by the increasing attraction our school system has for minorities
and low income families, who have the aspirations of all parents, to better the lives
of their children;
We are humbled by the challenges of shifting demographics that place pressures on
our parishes and schools, calling for creative and imaginative solutions that go
beyond past parish boundaries;
We are humbled that much of our infrastructure built decades ago has to be a factor
in making decisions about the future; and
We are humbled that today people relate to their parishes differently than in the
past, due in part to greater mobility in the work force and the loss of ethnic loyalties
that once bound communities together. This new kind of relationship, at times, can
cause tensions as pastoral leaders try to understand how their schools fit into the
mission of the parish.
Yes, there are challenges that humble us, but they are nowhere near the ones that
faced the Church 130 years ago. We have the human and other resources to address
them, but we need to do this together and, in all humility, invite new partners.
Making our system of education stronger, and particularly more available to
families in need of financial aid, is at the heart of the To Teach Who Christ Is
Campaign. Its aim is to bolster and sustain the tuition assistance we provide to tens
of thousands of children who attend our 240 schools, served by over 7,000 tax
paying teachers.
Despite these private efforts, we still need other partners, simply because our school
system each year attracts more and more families who are in need, many minority
families, many of whom are not Catholic. We educate them not because they are or
ever will be Catholic; we educate them because we are Catholic and we have a
proven product, are good at it and they know it.
Yet, there is a limit to how much we can do. While it is true that nationwide
Catholic schools save taxpayers over $20 billion each year, it is also true that the
likelihood of continuing this legacy is in doubt without some adjustment that will
give families a choice through government cooperation. There are promising signs
that many citizens in this country and in our state recognize in greater numbers the
benefit of giving school choice to families. They see that we can educate children in
quality programs for less, that we have a good product, and that our students grow
up to be good citizens. But the contrary is also true. If the state were to lose more
Catholic schools, it will increase the burden on taxpayers. I am aware that many
good people associated with Ed Choice, which I fully support, are working with
many of our elected officials on legislation that will provide tax incentives for
individuals and corporations to increase donations to scholarship providers for
parochial schools, and also provide significant additional dollars to public and
charter schools.
I want to be clear. This is not about pitting private/parochial schools versus public
and charter schools; the effort aims to support all three sectors so that all families
have access to a high quality school, no matter what sector they choose. Recently, a
reporter asked me if I felt as though the Catholic schools were not getting enough
credit for the way they help public school budgets, taking the costs of so many
students off the tax rolls. My answer was simply: “I don’t think in those terms. As
far as I am concerned, no matter what school they are in, they are all our children.”
That is my invitation to all the citizens of this state and especially our elected
officials. Let’s remember that they are all our children. We bring to the table our
tradition of challenging each other as adults to sacrifice and make demands of each
other for the benefit of our children. We bring to the table our tradition of passing
on faith and knowledge that works for the benefit of our children and society. We
bring to the table our tradition of intentionally aiming to give youth the tools to be
the next generation of adults who will continue that legacy for the good of the
Church and society. We ask others to join us in that tradition and vision by
supporting the To Teach Who Christ Is Campaign and by partnering in the efforts to
give all parents and families a choice when it comes to the education of their
We are proud of the past, but we are equally humble about the future. In humility,
we recognize that we have many reasons to be thankful for the sacrifices of so many
in the past. We also understand that new partnerships are necessary to continue the
legacy handed on to us. I welcome the challenge of making the case for new
partnerships and the opportunity to invite you to join me in building on all that we
have received. Your presence today makes me proud but keeps me humble in
knowing none of us can do this alone. Thank you for your support.
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