Catholic schools in the united states

St. Thomas High School, a Catholic high school, in Houston

Catholic schools in the United States are accredited by independent and/or state agencies, and teachers are generally certified. Catholic schools are supported through tuition payments and fund raising.


By the middle of the 19th century, the Catholics in larger cities started building their own parochial school system.[1] The main impetus was fear that exposure to Protestant teachers in the public schools, and Protestant fellow students, would lead to a loss of faith. Protestants reacted by strong opposition to any public funding of parochial schools.[2] The Catholics nevertheless built their elementary schools, parish by parish, using very low paid and sisters without college educations as teachers.[3] This was not unlike the public school system, where college-educated teachers became the norm only in the 20th century.

In the classrooms, the highest priorities were piety, orthodoxy, and strict discipline. Knowledge of the subject matter was a minor concern, and in the late 19th century few of the teachers in parochial schools had gone beyond the 8th grade themselves. The sisters came from a wide number of religious orders, and there was no effort to provide joint teachers training programs. The bishops were indifferent. Finally around 1911, led by the Catholic University in Washington, Catholic colleges began summer institutes to train the sisters in pedagogical techniques. Long past World War II, the Catholic schools were noted for inferior conditions compared to the public schools, and less well-trained teachers.[4][5]


Most Catholic elementary schools are operated by a local parish community, while secondary schools are usually operated by a diocese or archdiocese, or a religious institute, and often those in major cities are also attached to a Catholic university.[6]

In the United States, the term parochial school is commonly used to refer to Catholic schools, to distinguish it from private school (which can refer to either a nonsectarian school or other church-based school).[7]

Most elementary schools are owned by a particular parish while high schools are often owned by a group of parishes (more common in the South), a religious institute (more common in Northeast), or a diocese. In the West, a mixture of schools operated by dioceses and religious institutes is common, with the older schools generally run by such institutes. Except in the case of independent schools, local priests are invariably members of the school board, and often at secondary schools are found among the teaching staff as well. In some dioceses the bishop holds the title of superintendent, while others have delegated this responsibility to the head of the Office of Catholic Schools. In terms of practicality, it is often the local priests who fulfill this function.

Mater Dei High School, a small Catholic high school in New Jersey

Most Catholic elementary schools tend to be smaller than their public counterparts, and it is not unusual for such schools to have only one teacher and classroom per grade level. Additionally, grade levels often separated between grammar and middle schools (in the public schools) are generally not separated in Catholic schools; thus a student may attend the same school from kindergarten or first grade through eighth grade. One other major difference is that in most parts of the country, public schools provide bus service to their students, while Catholic schools rarely do.

Entrance requirements

Catholic schools in the United States accept students of all religions, ethnic backgrounds, and ability. More competitive Catholic secondary schools tend to have tighter academic requirements and/or an entrance exam. It is a common expectation that non-Catholic students take religion classes and attend the spiritual exercises of the school. Many schools have a policy (sometimes written) banning proselytizing in any form.[8]


The United States had 7,498 Catholic schools in 2006-07, including 6,288 elementary schools and 1,210 secondary schools. In total there were 2,320,651 students, including 1,682,412 students in the elementary/middle schools and 638,239 in high schools.[9] Enrollment in the nation’s Catholic schools has steadily dropped to less than half of its peak at five million students 40 years ago, The New York Times reported in early 2009. At its peak in 1965, the number of U.S. parochial schools was more than 12,000, and roughly half of all Catholic children in America attended Catholic elementary schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. The same share in 2009 is about 15 percent. Among Latinos, the fastest-growing church group — soon to comprise a majority of Catholics in the United States — it is three percent. The article also reported on "dozens of local efforts" to turn the tide, including by the Archdiocese of Chicago and Washington, and dioceses in Memphis and Wichita, Kansas, as well as in the New York metro area.[10]

Public funding debate

Heavily Protestant in the 19th century, most states passed a state constitutional amendment, referred to as the Blaine Amendment, forbidding tax money be used to fund parochial schools, a possible outcome of heavy immigration from Catholic Ireland after the 1840s. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court partially vitiated these amendments, in theory, when they ruled that vouchers were constitutional if tax dollars followed a child to a school, even if it were religious. However, no state had, by 2009, changed its laws to allow this.[11]

Since 2000, 1,942 Catholic schools around the country have shut their doors, and enrollment has dropped by 621,583 students, to just over 2 million in 2012, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Many Catholic schools were being squeezed out of the education market by publicly funded Charter schools.[12]


  1. ^ Timothy Walch, Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1996).
  2. ^ Thomas E. Buckley, "A Mandate for Anti-Catholicism: The Blaine Amendment," America 27 September 2004, 18–21.
  3. ^ Jay P. Dolan, The American Catholic Experience (1985) pp 262-74
  4. ^ Dolan, The American Catholic Experience (1985) pp 286-91
  5. ^ James W. Sanders, The Education of an urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965 (Oxford University Press, 1977).
  6. ^ Timothy Walch, Parish School (1996).
  7. ^ Dolan, The American Catholic Experience (1985) ch 14
  8. ^ James A. Banks (2012). Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. SAGE Publications. pp. 303–6. 
  9. ^ Annual Data Report - National Catholic Educational Association
  10. ^ "For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis" by Paul Vitello and Winnie Hu The New York Times January 18, 2009 p. A29 NY edition. Retrieved 1-17-09.
  11. ^ Bush, Jeb (March 4, 2009). NO:Choice forces educators to improve. The Atlanta Constitution-Journal. 
  12. ^ Sean Cavanagh, "Catholic Schools Feeling Squeeze From Charters." Education Week, 29 August 2012.

Further reading

  • Cassidy, Francis P. "Catholic Education in the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. I." Catholic Historical Review (1948): 257-305. in JSTOR
  • Coburn, Carol K. and Martha Smith. Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920 (1999) pp 129–58 excerpt and text search
  • Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Experience (1985) ch 10, 14
  • Gleason, Philip, et al. "Baltimore III and education." US Catholic Historian (1985): 273-313. in JSTOR
  • McGuinness Margaret M. Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America (New York University Press, 2013)
  • Sanders, James W. The Education of an urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965 (Oxford University Press, 1977).
  • Walch, Timothy. Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1996)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.