The coronavirus poses a dire threat for Catholic schools — and offers an opportunity.
It’s been a long time since Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman came together as a fiery, electric duo to save an inner-city Catholic school in Leo McCarey’s 1945 The Bells of St. Mary’s — and boy, could Catholic education use some of that feistiness today.
With enrollment numbers for Catholic schools in freefall since the 1960s — dropping by a whopping 49 percent in the state of New York over the last 20 years alone — the coronavirus recession, which is impeding parents everywhere from paying tuition, feels like the final coup de grâce. The threat of the current fiscal crisis, materializing just as the sector already seemed to be taking its last, dying breaths, simply cannot be overstated.
What would Father O’Malley and Sister Mary say? Dial “O” for O’Malley?
They might suggest considering this crucible through the lens of faith, so that it might be transformed from a hopeless trial into an opportunity for refinement. A new product could emerge from the flames, tougher and holier than ever, and more equipped to meet demands where the public-education sector is failing.
At the moment, Catholic schools have the opportunity to address two key challenges where public schools are, in the view of many parents, dropping the ball. Catholic education’s response to these challenges — their ability to pick up the slack — could revitalize the entire sector right in the midst of its dark night of the soul.
Nora Kenney is a press officer at the Manhattan Institute.
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