Our front page shows the human emotion of news nobody wanted to deliver: Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic High Schools will close at the end of this school year. People, not buildings, dominate the page because this story is about students and their education.
It’s a sad time whenever a school is forced to close. But schools built for large student populations of the past must face the reality of the present. Simply put, the densely populated Catholic neighborhoods of lower Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia do not exist to the degree they once did.
The heroic sacrifices of parents to pay tuition, the tireless work of alumni to raise money and generous donations cannot overcome the fact of declining enrollment.
Can blame be placed on families who have moved away from the teeming urban neighborhoods where they were raised? Certainly not; in many cases those families support Catholic education in the communities they now call home.
Can blame be placed on lawmakers and elected officials who refuse to expand school choice in Pennsylvania? Certainly. Vouchers would help parents who already pay their school taxes to choose the best education for their child. They would enable talented, well-educated products of Catholic schools to contribute to society for less expense than public districts. Due to political opposition, however, vouchers have failed to be enacted in our state.
Scholarships help students attend Catholic schools, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is one of the area’s largest scholarship supporters. Last school year, the Archdiocese gave $11.8 million in tuition assistance to secondary school students, with 70 percent of those funds helping students in Philadelphia schools. North Catholic ($1,030,788) and Cardinal Dougherty ($602,634) were among the top recipients. Alumni helped fund much of this support with North graduates raising over $800,000 and Dougherty graduates over $200,000 of the above figures.
At the same time large, old buildings require more money to repair and maintain. Low enrollment even with scholarship aid makes rising costs so much harder to meet. The double effect of declining student populations and rising costs into the future means that the quality of Catholic education is bound to suffer.
This is not acceptable for school administrators and parents. The decision to close the two schools reflects good stewardship in the sense that the sacrifices of parents and the school communities must not be expended in vain. The focus must remain on what is best for children.
Emotions are running high among families associated with Cardinal Dougherty and North Catholic. They care deeply about the mission of Catholic education and are a credit to it. Their schools will close. But they will continue to strengthen in this local Church the mission they lived so well for the years they called themselves Falcons or Cardinals. Because above all, they call themselves Catholic.