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Why Catholic Schools?
| January 15, 2013 • by Bill Fitzgerald, M.Div., Ph.D.


Catholic schooling is flourishing in Fairfield County. Close to half our elementary schools are recognized among the top ten percent of all schools in the country. Several others are on the threshold of Blue Ribbon status. Enrollments are up at the high schools; and two high schools, Kolbe-Cathedral in Bridgeport and St. Joseph in Trumbull, are full. Where I am, at St. Joseph High School, we welcomed 230 freshmen this fall and enjoy a packed house at 830. Still, people want to know: “Why pay tuition when the public schools are so well resourced?”

My answer is always, “Seeing is believing.” Spend a day getting to know the teachers, students, and other parents and you will leave feeling that you have found a home.

Much research grant money has been spent discovering the obvious: with whom you go to school matters. Catholic schools are college preparatory schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Everyone graduates; everyone goes to college. Last year, 198 St. Joe’s seniors won for themselves $13 million in renewable grants and scholarships to many of the most select universities in the country. Whether you are Harvard or Housatonic bound, you follow a curriculum designed to get you into college and to see that you flourish once you are there.

Parents never have to argue with their children over whether to take the history of the Beatles or the history of Modern Civilization. We do not waste your time or talent. Such a focused, college-oriented curriculum allows our high schools to develop strands in engineering, bio-medical studies, pre-law, advanced math. And because everyone is swimming in the same direction, it is hard for even the most distracted to lose their way.

Catholic schools regularly outperform both public and private schools on nearly every educational measure. I believe there are two reasons for this success. One is the authenticity of our teachers. There are no secrets in the classroom. Students know whether the teacher is engaged. Teachers in a Catholic school are mission driven.

Second is the engagement by parents and alumni. At St. Joe’s, our science labs are modern and fully equipped. Our technology is state of the art. Our classrooms are well resourced. This fall we opened a new academic center with a spacious library and media center, three art and music rooms, a professionally designed lecture hall for 250 students, seminar and conference rooms, all surrounded by beautiful courtyards and a grotto. Our parents and alumni do not expect the state to provide everything, nor do they believe tuition covers their responsibility. Catholic education is a family affair and, like family, it’s a commitment for life.

At the end of Freshmen Week, 230 freshmen brought their families to the Bible Mass for new students. There are three times a student’s name is read publically at St. Joe’s: at graduation, at the junior ring liturgy, and at the Bible Mass, where each student receives a Bible provided to them by the Parent’s Association. The book is handed to them by their home room teacher. To see the church filled to overflowing as the new students are formally welcomed into the St. Joe’s community is to know a Catholic education is much more than a 5 on the AP exams.

The key is our faith-based education. You learn the rules in elementary school; in high school, you put them into practice. These are the years when teenagers make those moral decisions that form their character for life. Respect and responsibility are essential lessons in every classroom experience in Catholic schools. The business community tells us that today relational intelligence is as important as academic acumen. Social responsibility develops best in a valuesbased environment that holds you accountable. Colleges know who we are. They know our students follow a rigorous curriculum, that our students know how to do homework, and that our students enhance the quality of life on their campuses. Moral and intellectual formation, taken together, is priceless.

I have often said that it is easy to be Catholic at St. Joe’s. Our kids are like kids anywhere, but they are confident kids. They do not have to put others down to make themselves feel good, which means everyone is free to explore their own dreams and vocations. This doesn’t happen everywhere. This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens in those special places where people believe in each other and have faith in their calling.

Catholic schooling is something we do together. Family, faith, and friends. Make it a point to stop by one of our 38 schools and “see.” I think you will stay.