I read an interesting article by University of Chicago scholar Martin E. Marty. The article rather whimsically treats Catholic Schools as reified artifacts - a fedora e.g. things that fade out of fashion and necessity. I'm no scholar, but I have taught and worked in Catholic high schools since 1975. So, since we are doing metaphors, Catholic schools remain the Cadillac of American education; back in 1975 more Americans could afford a Caddy.
I taught at Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, Illinois. The Clerics of St. Viator(CSVs) operated this co-educational high school under aegis of the Joliet Diocese. There were five Viatorian priests in the Administration and teaching staff and there were also nine Sisters of Notre Dame(CNDs) in teaching and clerical positions.The balance of the faculty were lay persons. Together we served the 400 young men and women from diverse backgrounds. The school was mirror of Kankakee County - heavily French with African Americans and Dutch Protestants filling out the demographic. The students were the sons and daughters of farmers, factory workers, tradesmen, white collar workers, doctors, lawyers and a couple of bankers.
1975 saw the fall of Saigon and my baby steps in teaching. The American economy began to tip due to OPEC and Jimmy Carter responded by manfully donning a sweater. Kankakee had been home to many big sized businesses, Roper, AO Smith, Armstrong Tiles & Pharmeceuticals. These operations as well as the foundries, metal fabrication and pallet operations provided a robust employment. Tuition, which would be considered invisible by today's Catholic school prices, was set at $ 787 per year, sans fees and books.
I was paid a salary of $ 6, 800, with medical and allowed to pay into a retirement plan. My salary every two weeks amounted about $ 264.00 every two weeks. I paid $ 225 a month for an apartment near the school, as I did not own a car. I walked for two years. Things were good. I received a modest raise each year according to the Levels and Steps Salary Scale of the Joliet Catholic Schools.
The economy broke bad. The Shah was bounced, America held Hostage, OPEC kicked sand in our eyes and Jimmy Carter paddled away from a rabbit. Malaise.
AO Smith and Roper went to Mexico and so did the secondary industries. Our parents were laid off. One gentleman, Mr. W, had three kids in Catholic schools and was a shift manager at Roper in 1977. In 1979, he was bagging groceries at Grocery World and Mrs. W. babysat. The kids all graduated, but they had moved from four bedroom bi level home in the the very upper middle class west side Kankakee Parish of St. Martin of Tours to rental slab home in Bradley, IL. The W Family were heroic.
Other families just could not hack it and parted for the Kankakee, Bourbonnais, Momence, St. Anne and Herscher School districts. The enrollment and the tuition revenue plunged. The faculty went without raises, but kept the school operation first rate. The athletic and academic programs blew away the competition from the tax-fueled public schools all over the county and beyond.
In 1981, due to declining vocations, the CSVs ended their operational ties to the school. Shortly thereafter the CNDs did the same. More lay persons swelled the salary slot in the budget ledgers. That same year the school and the parents initiated the Negotiated Tuition program to keep as many of the students in the school. Parents agreed to bring in their W-2 forms and negotiate tuition, or opt to meet the $1,400 tuition.
Regardless of the struggle, Catholic families sent their sons and daughters to Bishop McNamara. The school held on. After three years, the negotiations ended and tuition was set once again. No miracles. This was small ball*.
The faculty was an immensely talented body of teachers who sent Kankakee kids to Yale, Brown, Rutgers, University of Chicago, West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy, as well as Illinois, Purdue, DePaul, Loyola, ISU, EIU and Olivet.
Graduates stood out - Lori Hoekstra became a producer for Saturday Night Live, Letterman and now manages Norm McDonald, Kara Zediker is a movie star, America's first Casualty in the Operation Iraqi Freedom was Capt. Ryan Beaupre USMC (dec.) and there are so many more like Napoleon Harris and Ron Young in civil and public service. There is also a thick handful of Catholic priests brothers and nuns who graduated from Bishop McNamara at the end of the last millennium.
No miracles. This was small ball played out with huge sacrifices. In piece linked to Marty Marty which uses the metaphor of Fedoras for Catholic schools misses a point. I continue to work in Catholic schools; did I mention I work at Leo High School?
Fedoras can still be purchased at vintage boutiques and they tend to cost a hell of lot more than the original price. Fedoras might not be worn by a huge male demographic anymore. Some folks worry that a Catholic education might become available only to the elite, the affluent and label conscious - like Notre Dame University. Catholic schools exist because of Catholics. Catholics who take of precious things - faith, family, and freedom are not fads.
Fashion - even grown men wearing bow-ties- fades. Fads even faster. Catholic education is no fad; no matter how much public school educators try ape the school traditions - a Cadillac is no Prius. Catholic schools like the Dodo bird? Like the Fedora, Marty?
I don't believe that to be the case at all. I work at a school that 'smart' people insisted would close 'next year' with the same passion and precision that a Cubs fan sees a Cub World Series trophy. The Cubs won one in 1908; Leo has been closing since 1967.
Here's your Fedora; see you next year Marty!.
* Catholic League football is remarkable for slugging it out yard for yard and eating the clock as well pounding to the goals. However, small ball is more of a baseball term:"When Paul Richards took over as the manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1951, his team had few power hitters, so he decided that he needed to manufacture runs by emphasizing speed as well as a strong defense. The White Sox became a contender and eventually, the team known as the Go-Go Sox won the American League championship in 1959 by relying on speed and defence."