Struggling Catholic schools strategize to draw new students

Thu May 2, 2013 9:54am EDT
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By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - For years, headlines about Catholic schools in the United States have told gloomy tales of falling enrollment and multiple closings.

Between 2000 and 2013, 2,090 U.S. Catholic schools closed or consolidated and enrollment fell 24.5 percent, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). In places like Chicago's Leo Catholic High School for boys, student numbers have plummeted from 1,200 students in the 1950s to 157 this year. In New York, the Catholic Archdiocese plans to close 24 schools.

This decline has implications for public schools throughout the nation, say Catholic school supporters. According to the NCEA, the 2 million U.S. students they serve save the nation approximately $21 billion a year in public school costs.

But while schools are closing in northeastern and Great Lakes cities, they're expanding in places like Indiana, Texas, North Carolina and Florida, which have growing Catholic populations, governments willing to support private school, or both.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, Cardinal Gibbons High School has expanded three times since 1994 and now has two facilities for 1,240 students.

"Enrollment in this area is very, very strong," said diocesan superintendent Michael Fedewa. When he came to Raleigh 19 years ago there were so few Catholics it was considered "missionary territory." The diocese has since opened eight new schools.

Nationally, 32 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists, showing the mismatch between space and demand.


A worker walks through the reception area at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago, Illinois February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young