The LuLac Edition #135, Jan. 18, 2007
PICTURE INDEX: PHOTO OF ST. JOHN'S HIGH SCHOOL, PITTSTON, PA., CIRCA EARLY 1960s, I GRADUATED ST. JOHN'S IN 1972, STANDING ON THE VERY SAME CHURCH STEPS WHERE THE LAST GRADUATING CLASS (PICTURED TO THE RIGHT) STOOD. MY COMMENTS ON THIS SITUATION ARE BELOW. TO ALL THE DEAD NUNS WHO TAUGHT ME, I HOPE I MADE YOU PROUD!
THE CATHOLIC CRISIS
I am tempted to call this article a “crisis in Catholic Education” but that would be totally inaccurate. The forced closings of Catholic schools in Northeastern Pennsylvania has as much to do about Catholicism in the New Century as much as it has to do with education.
Everyone is up in arms regarding the school closures. People in Hazleton are already saying that “lower Luzerne County still believes there is a God but not necessarily a Catholic church”. Parents in Pittston and Kingston feel used because they were led to believe that if they came up with a workable solution, they could keep the schools open for their kids. The frustration level for these parents has to be incredible. Post baby boomers that have given their kids everything, Ipods, Cell phones, and state of the art computers now are impotent against a Catholic Church that to some resembles “The Sopranos In Vestments”. Once the church family makes a decision, there isn’t a reprieve. These parents are the same ones who grew up with post WWII era parents who struggled to give them material things they never had. Matters of Catholic education were a given. If you belonged to the church, your kids could be educated at a Catholic school. How cruel and ironic that the current day parents, arming their children with material goods so they can compete in the world on every level now find that the one rock they thought they could count on, a Catholic education is nothing more than random grains of sand.
When did this slide begin? Who is at fault? Many right now are blaming the Bishop who without a doubt is a mercenary stopping by and doing the bidding of the higher ups. I thought it strange that Bishop Timlin said on the eve of his 75th birthday that he was looking forward to retirement. Did this charismatic, gregarious fixture of the Scranton diocese know something we didn’t? No, he knew as well as most Catholics did that the Church was changing. Not just the schools but the social identification of what it was to be a Roman Catholic.
Church attendance started to drop off in events that in the past were Catholic mandates. Hardly a young soul ventured out for Novenas or Stations of the Cross. The grandmas and the granddads held the fort. Then as some of that generation died off, actual Mass attendance started to slide. There was a feeling among young Catholics that they could pick and choose the maxims of the church they wanted to follow. Dubbed “cafeteria Catholics”, these individuals identified themselves as Roman Catholics in name only. Church on Sunday became secondary to ballet, mini football and soccer leagues. The majority of “Labeled Catholics” rarely supported the churches and schools financially, showed up for Mass on Christmas and Easter, held on until Junior or Sis got their slap across the face from the Bishop at Confirmation and then were rarely seen or heard from again until they either married or had children. Like society itself, Catholics were not immune from having illegitimate children, and having single parent families who struggled to keep the family above sea level. Holy water? That was a term used in a far away place in a CCD class a long time ago.
Every religion goes through a process of secularization. Most church structures have the flexibility to deal with the changes society thrusts on the institution.
The Catholic Church however, with its long time dependence on uniformity, teamwork and faith in its teachings had a difficult time absorbing “Labeled Catholics”. For a time, the Church denied the existence of them chalking up the bi- annual appearances at church as serendipity. But like any foundation dependent on total support, the Catholic Church found out that the “Labeled Catholics” were a weak link. Most, not all of their children did not go to a Catholic based school, and most, not all of the children’s parents contributed anything to the Church as a whole.
This left the Catholic Church in the Scranton diocese with the “Heritage Catholics”. These were the people who went to Mass every Sunday, contributed to the church and school drives and honored the continuity of what the Church was when they were growing up. These “Heritage Catholics” built upon the legacy of the generations before them. Sitting in the grand churches built by their ancestors at the turn of the century, marveling at how immigrant, penniless workers could erect hundreds of ethnic-Catholic shrines, they thought that continuing that legacy in a modern day of affluence would be easy. After all, they had more formal education, wealth and luxuries than their ancestors. How could they not provide something as basic as a Catholic education?
Here’s what they didn’t count on. The “Heritage Catholics” were outnumbered by the “Labeled Catholics”. Each group is a member of God’s family from a spiritual standpoint, the Bishop will even admit to that. All are counted as Catholics at the end of the day. Final judgments of their life as Catholics are not ours to make. But since this is all about the numbers as the Diocese points out, the sad, hard true fact is that the “Heritage Catholics”, a distinct minority from a spiritual and social standpoint are paying the price for the inaction and inertia of the “Labeled Catholics”. The answer to that lies not in any education report from Wisconsin, but in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with these two distinct groups under its own roof. The closings of the schools is just a symptom of the disease that may ultimately kill the Catholic Church.
ST. JOHN'S ALMA MATER
Loyal and true,
We pledge alligience to you,
This is our high school,
We are all for one and all for St. John's High School,
Here's to our school,
And long and high may she rule,
Forever more you will find us,
Always loyal and true.