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Black Catholic Resources Article ~ { Print Version }
The National Black Catholic Congress

Sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community


This book is the result of an initiative of the National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) Leadership Commission on Catholic Education: to empower Black Catholics to reclaim Catholic schools and institutions of higher learning.

The NBCC Commission on Catholic Education focuses on improving the experience of the Black student throughout elementary, secondary, and higher education. We are inclusive of all Catholic Institutions and we share the vision of Black Catholic education at the heart of the Church, evangelizing a socially just Church.

This ongoing initiative is sponsored through the generosity of the National Black Catholic Congress under the leadership of its Executive Director, Ms. Valerie Washington. The project is guided by a team of scholars who collaborate in a system of intellectual and spiritually directed tasks. We are most grateful for the support and encouragement given by Bishop John Huston Ricard, S.S.J., chairman of the Board of Trustees for the National Black Catholic Congress.


Article Sections

Assessment of Successful Models for Catholic Schools In Urban Communities
Chapter 1: Models of Effective Schools
Chapter 2: Preparing Teachers, Administrators, and Staff
Chapter 3: Preparing Students
Chapter 4: Collaboration among Parents, Teachers, Community, and Church
Chapter 5: The Commitment
Meet the Authors

A central question guided the writing of this book: What is to become of Catholic Schools in our African American communities? Clearly, the preservation and enhancement of Catholic education in the Black community is no easy task. However, it is our responsibility to ensure that these institutions flourish for years to come.

In their first pastoral letter in 1984, What We Have Seen and Heard, the Black Bishops of the United States recognized Catholic education as a vital evangelization tool that brings thousands into contact with the faith and into the Church. Catholic education is a primary means by which the Church answers the Gospel injunction to teach all people (cf. Mt 28:19). The Catholic school has been and remains one of the chief vehicles of evangelization within the Black community.

In this pastoral letter, the Bishops spoke of the challenges, sacrifices, and extra toil that families assume to enable their children to receive an education, for Black people believe that the key to a better life is the school. The Bishops further explained that the Catholic school represents both an opportunity for a quality education and a sign of stability in an often turbulent environment.

While acknowledging the economic challenges that confront schools, the bishops stated that cost effectiveness can never be the sole criterion for decisions regarding the continuation of Catholic education in the Black community. Catholic schools in Black neighborhoods should be the concern of the entire community, not solely those who are Catholic. The excellence, scholarship, and continued growth of these schools should be a constant concern for all Catholics.

In the document, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (USCCB, 2005), the bishops affirmed their conviction that Catholic elementary and secondary schools are of great value to our Church and our nation. Catholic schools are the Church's most effective contribution to families who are poor and disadvantaged, particularly in inner city neighborhoods and rural areas. Therefore, wherever possible, Catholic schools should remain available and accessible for Catholic and non-Catholic children from poor and middle-class families who face major economic challenges. This outreach must continue in the new millennium.

Therefore, the bishops committed themselves and the whole Catholic community to the following set of goals:

  • Catholic schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality.
  • Catholic schools will be available, accessible, and affordable.
  • The bishops will launch initiatives in both the private and public sectors to secure financial assistance for parents, the primary educators of their children, so that they can better exercise their right to choose the best schools for their children.
  • Catholic schools will be staffed by highly qualified teachers and administrators who will receive just wages and benefits, as directed in the pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All.

The NBCC commissioners on Catholic Education followed the directions of the bishops and organized their work with the vision of Black education at the heart of the Church, evangelizing a socially just Church. This plan of action is designed to guide Catholic dioceses across the nation in addressing issues pertaining to Catholic Education
in the Black Community.

Appreciative Inquiry

To assist in the development of a new plan of action for Catholic Education, the NBCC provided the commission with resources and training in the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process. AI is described as the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them (Cooperrider, 2000). Its purpose is to discover what gives life to a system when it is most effective and most constructively capable.

AI involves the practice of asking questions in order to understand, anticipate, and maximize a system´s positive potential. When inquiry utilizes the “unconditional positive question,” the often-negative task of intervention gives way to imagination and innovation. AI seeks to build a union between past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, strengths, opportunities, benchmarks, high points, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, expressions of wisdom, and visions of a bright future. Utilizing all of these elements, AI works from this “positive change core” and assumes that every system has many untapped positive accounts. When this energy is applied, changes never thought possible are mobilized.

By engaging in the AI process when developing the new plan, the Catholic Education Commissioners were able to focus on the subject of Catholic Education while always maintaining positive verbal and nonverbal communication. Each member was asked to answer the question, “When is Catholic Education at its best?” The responses revealed several
common elements, including the presence of religious sisters as teachers, the ability of a school to engage the whole family, and the emphasis on community service.

The AI process helped the commissioners to understand how a focus on negative experiences can interfere with problem solving and successful outcomes. By focusing on positive experiences, the commissioners were able to identify the best in their vision of Catholic Education.

NBCC Education Commission Five Ideal States

Using the AI process, the Catholic Education Commission developed the following five ideal states:

Ideal State 1: Financially stable Catholic schools in and for the Black community.

Ideal State 2: Implementation of successful educational models that sustain the future of Catholic schools and education in and for the Black Community.

Ideal State 3: Academically competent, socially responsive, Christ-centered teachers, administrators, and staff who are prepared for a globally and locally diverse world.

Ideal State 4: Academically competent, socially responsible, Christ-centered students who are prepared for a globally and locally diverse world.

Ideal State 5: Parents, community, and Church as support systems.

It is the hope of the NBCC Commission on Catholic Education that this book will serve as a resource for implementing change that will make these ideal states a reality.


The first section of the book, “Assessment of Successful Models for Catholic Schools in Urban Communities,” provides insightful information on the challenges that urban schools are facing and how these challenges
are being addressed.

Chapter One, “Models of Effective Schools,” profiles best practices in sustaining urban schools.

Chapter Two, “Preparing Teachers, Administrators, and Staff,” describes ways in which schools can attract and retain qualified educators.

Chapter Three, “Preparing Students,” focuses on ways in which schools can excel in meeting the academic and spiritual needs of its learners.

Chapter Four highlights the importance of collaboration among parents, teachers, community, and Church.

Chapter Five, “The Commitment,” provides readers with a variety of actions that must be taken to ensure that Catholic schools will continue, grow, and flourish.

Immaculate Conception High School Class of 1968
The graduation of the Class of 1968 of the Immaculate Conception High School brought to a close many years of school life for the Catholic school.

This picture is a part of the pictorial exhibit, “The History of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston.”

The Immaculate Conception High School closed in 1968. In 2003, Bishop Robert J. Baker, Bishop of Charleston, made a commitment to keep open Catholic schools in urban communities.

Assessment of Successful Models for Catholic Schools in Urban Communities

In his 2006 study of Catholic schools that serve urban communities, Brother Gary A. Sawyer, ECSA, identifies the most formidable challenge facing these schools: they are in danger of closing. Brother Sawyer identifies the root causes, and assesses models that provide solutions.


Due to decreased enrollment, lack of funding, the rising cost of education, d other challenges, inner city parochial schools are struggling to provide quality education to children and their families. Many families from lower to middle socioeconomic levels wish to provide the benefits of a Christ-centered education for their children, but lack of expendable income has made Catholic education unaffordable (O´Keefe, 2005).

The decline of urban centers and the flight of large numbers of Catholics to the suburbs has negatively strained the schools´ stability and financial status, and has caused many inner city Catholic schools to close (Harris, 1995; O´Keefe, 2005), even while suburban and rural schools have increased enrollment (National Catholic Education Association [NCEA], 2006). Recent reports indicate that a large number of Catholic schools in New York City and Chicago will close at the end of the year (Commonweal, 2005). For decades, these schools served as neighborhood anchors, providing an identity for communities, even after Catholics left for the suburbs.

This migration to the suburbs, as well as from the Northeast and Midwest to the Sun Belt, has changed the demographics of inner city Catholic school neighborhoods. As the population of inner city Catholic schools becomes more diverse, some Black students are experiencing significant disparities in the rate of graduating high school and going on to institutions of higher learning (NBCC, 2006).

Many inner city school families rely on scholarship and foundation grants for tuition fees. Therefore, decreased government support through vouchers or other programs has contributed to the decline in enrollment.

The traditional model of a parish-subsidized Catholic school is no longer effective. In 1969, parishes funded 63 percent of their elementary school bills. Today, while most Catholic schools receive some money from the parishes, those funds are not sufficient to cover operating costs. In urban parishes, a greater percentage of students are not Catholic, and pastors are often reluctant to subsidize schools. Donations to dioceses that traditionally helped support non-self-sustaining schools also have decreased. There is a lack of infrastructure to conduct sophisticated fundraising to compensate for this lost revenue. Additionally, no resources are available to the general public regarding successful models for sustaining inner city Catholic schools.

Catholic schools also face staffing challenges. Teachers often leave parish schools to join public school systems because of better salaries and benefits (Reidy, 2004). Catholic school teachers find it difficult to return to school for more training or to earn higher degrees due to low salaries. While the smaller teacher-student ratio in Catholic schools is beneficial for students, it also means that the regular classroom teacher must manage classroom issues with little outside help. Many teachers leave the Catholic school system due to frustration over the lack of support. Additionally, the high cost of technology makes it more difficult for Catholic administrators to advance curriculum development.

Market values and practices in education appear to be at odds with some of the foundational values of the Catholic educational mission (Grace, 2002). To be sure, much hard thinking and planning must be done, and difficult changes in textbooks, educational materials, and pedagogical methods must be made. Some teachers and administration may have to be reassigned and additional staff enlisted.

A disproportionate share of Catholic school students live in large cities. In particular, urban and inner city Catholic schools serve a large African American community. Of the 189,813 African Americans enrolled in Catholic schools nationwide, 139,484 are enrolled in elementary schools, and 50,329 are enrolled in secondary schools (NCEA, 2006).

Data suggest that public schools in large cities perform poorly compared to other public schools. The urban-school performance deficit appears to be most acute in minority neighborhoods. However, students in Catholic schools learn more in a year than public-school students. The skills that Catholic school students acquire are crucial to helping them to achieve labor-market success. Therefore, as a 1996 survey of Catholic bishops agreed, “The need for Catholic schools to stay open is as great today as in the past” (Reidy, 2004).


Although the total number of Catholic schools has decreased in the past 35 years, the Church has not lost sight of its commitment to educating children, particularly poor children within inner cities and urban areas (NCEA, 2006). Forty-four percent of all Catholic schools are located in urban and inner city areas, despite population losses and great financial difficulties in maintaining them. Schools in various dioceses have developed new structural models to remain open.

With costs rising and the relative support from parishes decreasing, schools (particularly those in inner cities) must pursue a variety of sources to secure financial stability. Catholic schools can no longer rely on the support of the local parish to provide funding. Catholic schools must gain knowledge of successful models for sustaining schools in other cities and dioceses. Many schools are becoming financially independent, headed by business- and marketing-savvy lay boards with a spiritual commitment to helping the needy (Borja, 2005).

Financially stable Catholic schools must be established within Black communities and supported by the Black businesses, social organizations, and churches. Funding development with individuals, corporations, industries, and existing foundations must be developed. Tuition fees must be reduced for families from lower socioeconomic levels.

The establishment of a United Black Catholic Education fund will help to ensure the ongoing development of funding opportunities for schools as well as individuals. On a wisely invested funding base, such as an endowment, the returns could considerably lessen the amount the individual schools must raise each year through fundraising events (Borja, 2005). With this type of funding base, teachers can be paid adequate salaries as well as maintain curricular, technology, and school plant needs (NBCC, 2006).

Catholic schools will need to develop strategies for the hiring and retention of qualified teachers. Teachers and staff members of Catholic schools who understand the role and mission of Catholic schools in the ministry of the Church will project Catholicity into the everyday life of the school. Qualified religion teachers also are essential to maintaining the Catholicity of the school. Good Catholic schools provide several outstanding advantages over traditional public schools: Christ-centered spiritual growth activities; discipline in student behavior, dress, and accountability; and improved student achievement.

The ongoing development and implementation of educational models that sustain the future of Catholic education for the Black community will help to uncover new funding strategies, improve learning programs, and enhance a faith-based environment that addresses the total needs of the school populations being served. Support and direction must be provided not only for students, but for parents and the community, as well.

A strong Catholic identity must be reflected in the mission, philosophy, and curriculum of inner city Catholic schools. Curricula must be inclusive of all world cultures and customs. Diversity training must become a staple for teachers, administrators, staff members, students, and parents. Textbook publishers must be made aware of the importance of inclusion of appropriate material for all cultures and socioeconomic groups. It is the overall goal of inner city Catholic schools to produce academically competent, socially responsible, Christ-centered students who are prepared for a globally and locally diverse world.

Closer inspection reveals that the religious mission is still pursued through a variety of means, ranging from the use of diocesan funds to keep insolvent inner city schools open (as in Washington, D.C., where the Center City Consortium of parish elementary schools is funded by the Archdiocese of Washington), to mandatory community service, to dealing with students according to avowed principles of Christian respect (Youniss & Mclellan, 1999).

The Catholic community in this country may appear to be presiding over the gradual dismantling of perhaps its greatest achievement: the creation and maintenance of an academically competitive school system geared to the faith formation of the Catholic young (Hidy, 1998). However, while funding and enrollment have decreased, the dioceses´ commitment to Catholic education remains strong.

Several models have been shown to improve, maintain, and enhance the existing status of Catholic schools. According to the NBCC, a publication unifying best practices in Black Catholic schools is a solution to ensure the continuance of Catholic education in Black communities (NBCC, 2006). Therefore, the NBCC Catholic Education commissioners provide this publication as a resource to the Catholic Church in America. We hope that this book will be a vital resource in sustaining Catholic education in and for the Black community.

Chapter 1

Models of Effective Schools

Sustaining Catholic education in and for the Black community is a reality. Many schools across the United States have achieved great success in sustaining Catholic education in and for Blacks through a variety of models. The Catholic Education Commission researched numerous models and best practices. Included in this chapter are four outstanding models: Work-Study, Funding, Diocesan Support, and Foundations.

Work-Study Models

Model 1: Cristo Rey Network

Cristo Rey Network is a national association of high schools that provides quality, Catholic, college preparatory education to urban young people who live in communities with limited educational options. Most of these students qualify for the federal free- or reduced-lunch program. Member schools utilize a longer school day and year, academic assistance, and counseling to prepare students with a broad range of academic abilities for college. All students at Cristo Rey Network schools participate in a work-study program through which they finance the majority of the cost of their education, gain real world job experience, grow in self-confidence, and realize the relevance of their education.

The first Cristo Rey school was founded by Fr. John Foley in Chicago in 1996 to assist students with their tuition and to give them work experience. The Cristo Rey Network of schools was founded in 2001 when leaders from Portland, Oregon, Cleveland, Denver, and New York gathered to learn more about Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of Chicago, with the goal of replicating the model school.

Since 2001, leaders of the Cristo Rey Schools have been meeting regularly to share ideas and best practices. In 2003, the Cristo Rey Network formally organized as a 501(c)(3) organization. The Network is governed by a Board of Directors, several of whom are elected by the Member Schools. The Members of the Cristo Rey Network are schools approved by the Board. Each member school agrees to adhere to the 10 Mission Effectiveness Standards of the Cristo Rey Network.

B.J. and Bebe Cassin were the first philanthropists to promote the scaling up of the Cristo Rey model. In 2001, they made a $12 million commitment to replicate the Cristo Rey schools. Today, dozens of foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and individual donors throughout the country contribute to the efforts of the Cristo Rey Network. As of the 2006 to 2007 school year, the Network comprises 12 member schools.

Model 2: Education That Works (ETW)

To be complete, the education of today´s students must include preparation for future participation in the professional community. For this reason, the Education That Works (ETW) program was established by the Diocese of Memphis at Memphis Catholic High School.

Through the ETW program, the Memphis Catholic students´ education is extended beyond classroom teaching to a balanced work-study program. This program provides a unique opportunity for students to be exposed to the work environment that they will enter after college. Upon completion, students will have a clear competitive advantage as they transition from the academic environment to the professional workplace.

The ETW program is a separate 501(c)(3) operation. Memphis Catholic High School partnered with several civic-minded local business and organizations to form a “Community of Champions” that provides jobs for every student at the school. The sponsorships provided by these Champions pay for over 70 percent of each student´s tuition and provide learning opportunities unparalleled in the classroom.

The students investigate potential jobs and make a list of their preferences. First choice is given to seniors, then juniors, sophomores, and freshman; however, jobs are assigned according to capability, not necessarily classification.

One student from each grade level forms a four-person team that shares a single job. Each student in the group will work five full days per month: one day each week, rotating Fridays between the four students. The students work during the standard business hours set forth by each company, and are transported to and from work by the school´s transportation system. Academic schedules are structured around this work schedule so that the students do not miss any class time.

The students work in a variety of fields, processing paperwork, answering phones, filing, and copying – all the while learning the fundamentals of professionalism and hard work. During this experience, students are exposed to working environments that they may not have known existed. Here, they build confidence and are exposed to the professional world of their future.

Decisions made and habits formed in high school can have a significant impact on one´s future. Therefore, the mission of this model is to educate students with Christian love and fellowship that extends beyond the classroom. Memphis Catholic High School is committed to providing Education That Works to every student. Every student that passes through the school´s doors will have the opportunity to sharpen his or her intellect, embrace civic responsibility, engage in spiritual development, and cultivate strong work ethics. These invaluable assets will enable students to grow from childhood into adulthood, as beacons of Christian light to their community and the world.

Funding Models

Quality Catholic schools continue to be a priority for Church leaders, but constantly rising costs present perplexing problems. Many Catholic leaders are searching for new ways to fund Catholic education. Some fear that Catholic schools are becoming too costly for parents and for the Church as the sponsoring institution.

In response to these concerns, schools have developed a wide array of funding models. The fact that so many parishes and schools continue to search for funding options is an indication that one size does not fit all.

The following five funding models are generally accepted and easily understood in concept:

Cost-Based Tuition/Needs-Based Assistance Model:

Tuition is based on the actual cost-per-pupil. Tuition assistance is provided to families with documented needs. Parish subsidy and other funding sources are used to create a tuition assistance pool. This model has attracted national attention.

Negotiated Tuition Model:

Parents are made aware of the actual cost-per-pupil. Tuition is negotiated with each family by the pastor, principal, or designated committee, based upon the family´s ability to pay.

Parish Stewardship Model:

The financial contributions of parishioners are the primary funding source for parish ministries, including the Catholic school. There is little or no school tuition for participating members.

Traditional Funding Model:

School budgets are based on revenues coming from tuition, parish subsidy, fundraising, and development. Tuition rates for all families are reduced by the amount of income from parish subsidy, fundraising, and development income.

Diocesan Tuition Assistance Model:

One of the keys to success of all funding models is the availability of tuition assistance. The vast majority of tuition assistance is provided at the local level by funding from the home parish, and through fundraising, development, endowments, and other sources. However, some funding should be offered at the diocesan level.

Most Catholic schools are funded through the Traditional Funding model. Catholic school leaders across the country continue to look for new and improved ways to address the rising cost per pupil of Catholic education. The above models are among the many ways leaders are trying to first and foremost provide a quality Catholic education, and secondly, to ensure that every child, regardless of economic circumstances, can have access to a Catholic education.

Religious in Education: A Student´s Story

I received a first-class academic, spiritual, and affordable Catholic education from St. Joseph´s E lementary Catholic School in Alexandria, Virginia.

I grew up in the projects, and walked to school every day. Tuition was only $25 a year. The school was supported by the parish, and almost every child at St. Joseph Church went to the school.

The Oblate Sisters of Providence from Baltimore ran the school. When the Oblate Sisters accepted an invitation to work in a Catholic school in Iowa, St. Joseph´s school began to struggle and eventually closed.

The Very Reverend Paul Williams, OFM, VF, The Diocese of CharlestonReligious Sisters working in education was and is a blessing to the Church.

The Very Reverend Paul Williams, OFM, VF The Diocese of Charleston

Diocesan Support Models

Model 3: The Jubilee Schools

In July 1999, Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D., D.D., announced a new paradigm for Catholic education. Urban Catholic schools that had previously been closed due to low enrollment and lack of funding would be reopened to serve those with the greatest need: the children of innercity Memphis neighborhoods. The goal of this initiative is to create a learning environment where children and their families can learn, grow, and be loved. The schools were named in honor of the Jubilee year, a year of mercy for the underserved.

Bishop Steib´s vision led to a challenge that was directed to Dr. Mary McDonald, the Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. With a clear vision and unwavering faith, Dr. McDonald accepted the challenge and charged into unchartered waters with a simple perspective: “We don´t teach students because they are or are not Catholic. We need to teach them because we are Catholic. Education is our mission.”

Rather than begin by opening a pre-kindergarten through eight grade school with the near-impossible task of re-educating older children, the Jubilee Schools offered only kindergarten classes during the first year of each school´s reopening. A subsequent grade was added each year thereafter until the school was complete.

The rationale for this plan was simple. By beginning in kindergarten, the Jubilee students would come to know a challenging, loving environment at an early age that would foster personal responsibility, while allowing each student to realize his or her true potential.

In today´s society, the words “private” and “urban” are rarely uttered in the same breath. Yet the Jubilee Schools – the quintessential icons of private urban education – are demonstrating to the city, and to the world, exactly how effective this approach to education can be. The continuing success of the Jubilee Schools model will inspire duplication in other cities, expanding its influence exponentially.

When the Jubilee Schools first reopened in 1999, they started with one class of 27 students. Within 5 years, enrollment jumped to 500. Today, the Jubilee Schools encompass eight schools with more than 1,400 students currently enrolled, and the numbers are continuing to grow. Only 19 percent of the students are Catholic, while the remaining students represent a large diversity of denominations. However, the Jubilee Schools students all have one very important aspect in common: They are soaring to new heights.

The Jubilee Schools require assistance from each child´s parent, the most influential teachers the students will have. All parents sign a pledge of their responsibility for their child and their participation in the Jubilee Schools.

These students are learning the value of being faithful Christians and good citizens. They are learning that there´s more to life than the poor conditions in which they were born. They´re learning how to be better people – educationally, socially, and spiritually. The results have been, in a word, miraculous. By the end of their first year at a Jubilee School, most students can read at their grade level.

Seven years of educating the children with the greatest need has confirmed what many already suspected: the plan is working. It´s working amazingly well. The Jubilee Schools students actually outperform their peers on standard tests in reading, math, and science. In March 2005, The New York Times recognized the Jubilee Schools´ success, writing, “The most successful model of all may well be in Memphis.”

The Jubilee Schools are owned and operated by the Diocese of Memphis under the direction of the Superintendent of Schools. Helping to fund the vision of the Jubilee Schools is the Catholic Memphis Urban Schools Trust (CMUST). This trust was established by the Catholic Diocese of Memphis for the sole purpose of raising and managing money for Catholic schools in the inner city and impoverished areas of greater Memphis community. In addition to tuition assistance, CMUST engages in fundraising throughout the year. Donors´ monetary gifts enable the Jubilee schools to provide even more scholarships for students, helping to keep them on the path to success.

“We don´t teach students because they are or are not Catholic. We need to teach them because we are Catholic. Education is our mission.” Dr. Mary McDonald


Model 4: Big Shoulders Fund

The mission of the Big Shoulders Fund is to provide support to the Catholic schools in the neediest areas of inner-city Chicago. One hundred percent of the money raised by the Big Shoulders Fund is used to support children through scholarships, special education programs, instructional equipment, much needed school facility improvements, faculty support, and operating grants. The Big Shoulders Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Serving both Catholics and non-Catholics, the schools supported by the Big Shoulders Fund are seen as anchors in their communities and in the lives of the families they serve. The goal of the fund is to provide inner city Catholic schools with the resources to prepare Chicago´s young people for a productive future. The Big Shoulders Fund seeks to offer inner city children and their parents the opportunity to have a faithbased, value-centered education.

Model 5: Foundation for the Nativity & Miguel Schools

The mission of the Foundation for the Nativity & Miguel Schools (FNMS) is to sustain the viability and vitality of several reopened inner city Catholic schools. The foundation looks to strengthen the schools´ capacity to serve students and families. Nativity & Miguel schools welcome families and children affected by extreme poverty.

Founded by the Jesuits in 1971, the Nativity Mission School in New York was the first school opened with this new approach. As a neighborhood-based middle school (grades 5 through 8), children enroll into a year-round 8 to 10 hour school day. This extended school day model has three components: the regular class time; the “renaissance program” for after-school extra learning, games, or sports; followed by supper and a structured study hall. The students enjoy three daily food servings and a summer camp program.

Education often falls at the bottom of the priority list for low-income and immigrant families. They battle unemployment, subsidized housing, single parenting issues, and language barriers. Simply getting a child to and from school is a formidable challenge when the family has to consider transportation, late after-school programs, darkness, and neighborhood gangs.

Spread across 27 states, these schools serve over 4,000 students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The students maintain a 97 percent attendance rate. Ninety percent of the students go on to complete their high school education, and 80 percent of the graduates attend either two or four-year colleges and universities.

The FNMS is dedicated to the growth of these sources of hope for children from our country´s urban areas. To advance this work, FNMS:

  • Seeks broad funding on a national level for projects that benefit our member schools;
  • Conducts training conferences for school personnel, the compilation and distribution of best practices, standards for outcome assessment, and other joint ventures; and
  • Works to increase the visibility and support of Nativity & Miguel schools across the country.

Model 6: Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust

In January 1987, six Catholic elementary schools joined efforts to ensure quality education for economically disadvantaged children in inner- city Denver. Known as the S.U.N. (Schools in Urban Neighborhoods) schools, they serve predominantly single-parent households in areas profoundly impacted by poverty and violence.

The Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust was established in 1996 to expand the reach of the S.U.N. program. Seeds of Hope is a partnership between the Archdiocese of Denver and local business and community leaders.

Seeds of Hope supports the S.U.N. schools and other Catholic elementary schools serving low-income, high minority populations in innercity Denver. More than 90 percent of the students in these schools have a minority background, and more than 70 percent of the money distributed by Seeds of Hope goes directly to these schools.

Model 7: Extra Mile Foundation

The mission of the Extra Mile Education Foundation is to support the education of urban children in select parochial elementary schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Extra Mile Foundation provides student scholarship support to one Catholic school, and operational support to four additional Catholic schools.

These schools are in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and students are primarily African American and non-Catholic. Extra Mile is dedicated to sustaining these schools for their communities as a needed supplement to the financial commitments of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the schools, and the parents and families of the children.

As this chapter demonstrates, sustaining Catholic Education to and for the Black community is a reality, as a result of the ingenuity, sacrifice, and determination of many urban school communities.

Although having sufficient funding to keep schools open is crucial, a quality education is not complete without competent teachers, administrators, and staff. Chapter Two outlines the resources needed to achieve these objectives.

Chapter 2

Preparing Teachers, Administrators, and Staff

During his visit to Xavier University in New Orleans, Pope John Paul II highlighted the work of Catholic education, recognizing the gift of Catholic schools to Black communities. He stressed the importance of maintaining Catholic schools as strong and active catalysts in Black communities throughout the nation.

The 1989 Black Catholic Pastoral Plan affirmed the presence and urged the continuance of Catholic schools in the Black community. The Pastoral Plan recognized that these schools are a vital means of breaking the cycle of poverty by giving Black youth opportunities to develop academic skills and self-confidence, and by providing support for future educational and career endeavors.

In December 2006, The Notre Dame Task Force on Catholic Education (a national group of Catholic educators, administrators, diocesan representatives, philanthropists, and investment specialists) released the report, “Making God Known, Loved, and Served: The Future of Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools in the United States.” This yearlong study was commissioned by Notre Dame´s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and chaired by Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C., director of Notre Dame´s Institute for Educational Initiatives. The report is the University´s response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops´ 2005 pastoral statement, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.

The Notre Dame report outlines the many challenges that have confronted the Catholic community in the United States as generation after generation has struggled to build and sustain this extraordinary school system. The report acknowledges that the challenges certainly have not diminished at the outset of the 21st century. However, despite the many difficulties that confront Catholic schools, the report states that Catholic schools in the United States today offer compelling opportunities for growth and renewed life.

The NBCC Commission on Catholic Education agrees with the above assessments of Catholic schools and the value they provide for students, families, and communities in the nation´s urban cities. To discern best practices of Catholic education in urban communities, the Commission has utilized the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) method.

The AI method helps schools to affirm educational strengths, successes, and potentials at all educational levels. Teachers can use AI to create collaborative approaches that help students to re-discover the joy and value of learning. The method invites students to become active participants in the learning processes by building on their prior experiences, personal stories, culture, and traditions. AI allows for diverse learning styles and teaching methodologies; promotes academic excellence; affirms cultures and talents; and helps to build an engaging community.

A variety of models, tools, and techniques can be derived from the AI philosophy. For example, an AI-based approach to strategic planning might include identifying the best situations in an organization´s past, discerning key elements to success, envisioning ideals for the future, and building on those key elements to work toward our vision. The AI approach has revolutionized many practices, including strategic planning and organization development. The Commission recognizes that AI is an important strategy that schools can employ to assess the sustainability of Catholic education in Black urban communities.

Ultimately, sustaining Catholic schools in urban communities demands the investment of families in Catholic schools, as well as support from the communities. Sustainability also requires defining methods and programs that foster renewal, empower families, denounce violence, beautify neighborhoods, and create community. For teachers already teaching in Catholic schools, professional development and programs that address the social, academic, and parental challenges that confront them daily must be established. Teachers, parents, and students must be given a voice and input to decision making concerning educational resources, management strategies, and neighborhood rebuilding.

To attract and retain educators for urban schools, administrators and school board trustees must develop strategies that highlight the vision, mission, and overwhelming successes of Catholic schools and students. The strategy should emphasize the schools´ curricular goals, academic achievement standards, and benchmarks for measuring success. Priority should be given to hiring those who embrace the schools´ mission and values.

Catholic schools have for centuries received accolades for their organizational structures, well defined policies, unequivocal procedures for discipline, and clear social behavioral expectations of students. Historically, the mission and values of Catholic schools have been committed to promoting a more just and humane society and to helping students with social and economic needs to achieve high academic success. This goal demands that schools invest in dedicated teachers and empower parents to partner with schools in the education of their children. It also requires that communities advocate for social and economic change.

The research on family functioning, poverty, and urban communities is clear: a multi-pronged, community-capacity building effort is necessary to empower parents who are embedded in a context of economic survival and social isolation. Only then can parents overcome the daunting array of formidable obstacles to manage successfully their children´s educational experiences in the community and inside the classroom.

Substantial data indicate the positive effects of both home and schoolbased parental involvement programs for all parents, teachers, and students. Findings, such as those of Carole Ames in 1993, indicate that parent involvement enhances parents´ attitudes about themselves, school, school personnel, and the role each plays in the development of the child. This increased understanding promotes greater cooperation, commitment, and trust between parents and teachers. Finally, evidence, such as that of James Comer in 1980, suggests that students´ achievement and cognitive development increase when effective parent involvement practices are in place. Catholic schools in urban communities historically have operated in ways that bind families in networks of support that enhance parents´ abilities to promote positive educational outcomes for their children.

In the pastoral letter, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, the bishops state that young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community—bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity—to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible, and affordable to all. Catholic schools are often the Church´s most effective contribution to those families who are poor and underserved, especially in poor inner city neighborhoods and rural areas. Catholic schools cultivate healthy interaction among the increasingly diverse populations of our society.

In cities and rural areas, Catholic schools are often the only opportunity for economically underserved young people to receive a quality education designed to develop the whole person.

Research conducted by the United States Department of Education, the National Catholic Educational Association, and other independent agencies shows that Catholic schools make a major impact in closing the achievement gap for poor and minority students in inner-city environments. Catholic schools have a lower dropout rate (3.4 percent) than both public (14.4 percent) and other private schools (11.9 percent). Ninety-nine percent of Catholic high school students graduate, and 97 percent go on to some form of post-secondary education.

Catholic school students continue to score well on standardized tests (such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress) in subjects such as reading, mathematics, social studies, and science, often surpassing standards established by federal and/or state agencies. A Harvard University study issued in 2000 reported that Catholic school students performed better than other students on the three basic objectives of civic education: the capacity for civic engagement (e.g., voluntary community service), political knowledge (e.g., learning and using civic skills), and political tolerance (e.g., respect for opinions different from their own). Catholic schools are needed more today than ever, and studies have consistently demonstrated that Catholic schools work in urban communities.

The Commission on Catholic Education believes that the Church, Black Catholics, and the Black community today must strive to assist Catholic schools that exist in urban communities, to identify educational and financial models that sustain schools, and to explore new models that will help schools with diverse needs to flourish. Without a doubt, the successes of many Catholic schools today are the direct result of collaborations among bishops, pastors, lay leadership, parents, educational institutions, and the larger community.

The University of Notre Dame study affirms the direction and findings of the Commission: many models of Catholic schools are surviving in urban communities. However, it is crucial to raise awareness and develop partnerships that communicate the diverse models, because no one model will fit the needs of all urban schools. One of the exciting challenges of developing solutions to sustaining Catholic schools in urban communities is the opportunity to bring together educators, businesses, and community constituents to address this issue.

Xavier University

Xavier University of Louisiana is America´s only historically Black Catholic university, as well as the only university founded by a Saint, Katharine Drexel. Xavier prepares its students to assume roles of leadership and service in society through a pluralistic learning environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.

Xavier University was founded on the belief that a liberal and professional education, grounded in the principles and virtues of Christianity, will prepare Blacks, Native Americans, and other students to lead fulfilling lives and to guide society toward building a just and humane world.

Xavier University´s achievements in the sciences and in pharmacy have earned impressive national rankings that belie its relatively small enrollment. Graduates excel, carrying Xavier´s name into nearly every field of endeavor. By any measure, a Xavier University degree represents one of the best values in education.

Xavier University
Xavier University is indeed a “pearl of great price” for Black Catholics, the Catholic Church, the Black community, and the nation.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Xavier ranks first in the nation in placing African American students into medical schools, outpacing such prestigious national competitors as Harvard, Yale, Michigan, and North Carolina, and such prominent historically black colleges and universities as Morehouse, Spelman, and Howard. Black Issues in Higher Education´s “Top 100 Degree Producers” issue (June 2004) once again shows Xavier ranking first in the nation in the number of African American students earning baccalaureate degrees in two areas: the biological and biomedical sciences, and the physical sciences.

An American Chemical Society study ranks Xavier 14th in the nation in awarding undergraduate degrees in chemistry. Xavier is ranked 81st on Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews´ list of 100 “outstanding but underappreciated” colleges, and Matthews writes that Xavier has “one of the strongest health sciences programs anywhere.” The New York Times Selective Guide to Colleges observes, “Xavier is a school where achievement has been the rule, and beating the odds against success a routine occurrence.” The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy ranks Xavier first in the nation in enrolling and graduating African Americans in pharmacy.

In fact, the University has educated nearly 25 percent of the over 6,000 African American pharmacists practicing in the United States. The American Institute of Physics ranks Xavier first in the nation in producing African American graduates in physics. Truly, Xavier is like no other.

For more information, visit, call 504-520-
7691, or e-mail

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Xavier University is indeed a “Pearl of Great Price” for Black Catholics, the Catholic Church, the Black community, and the nation.

The Commission on Catholic Education is encouraged by the commitment of higher education institutions – such as Xavier University, the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, and the University of Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education – to preparing educators to teach and administer in Catholic schools in urban communities. It is imperative that lay leaders, schools, pastors, families, and communities recognize and advocate for the future of Catholic schools so that youth of today and tomorrow will have opportunities to experience the success that Catholic schools foster in Black communities. Catholic schools are indeed a Pearl of Great Price.

The Notre Dame Study team concluded its work with the question, “Without Catholic schools, how would the Church provide avenues of educational opportunity for the poor, especially those in our cities?” The Education Commission is concerned about this proposed question, as well as a second question: “Do we Black Catholics, the Black community, educators, parents, and the larger community have the will to re-write the present state of Catholic schools in urban communities?” It is our hope that those attending the National Black Catholic Congress, teachers, pastors, and the community will intentionally establish partnerships with universities, businesses, and others to utilize the Appreciative Inquiry processes to reflect on historical and present experiences of Catholic schools in the Black community and the value of the schools to families and youth as beacons of hope and opportunity.

The Commission on Catholic Education stresses the importance of recognizing diversity in Catholic Schools. The following Diversity and Sensitivity Training Approach is comprehensive and can be tailored to meet the needs of all dioceses. Diversity is discussed again in Chapter Three, which focuses on preparing students for a globally diverse world.

Diversity and Sensitivity Training Approach Assessing the Diversity Climate

Twenty–nine schools in the Diocese of Charleston embarked on an extensive diversity sensitivity and awareness program. The goal of the initiative was to provide training to promote diversity sensitivity among administrators, faculty, and staff in diocesan Catholic schools. Bishop Robert J. Baker appointed Kathleen Merritt, the director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, to lead this initiative. George Jones, Psy.D., assisted as a consultant.

Dr. Jones designed a Diversity Climate Assessment tool to determine specific focal areas in which training would produce favorable changes. All school administrators, faculty, and staff of the Charleston diocese were sent a survey to assess the diversity climate, and approximately 88 percent responded.

The data collected through this project indicated that the Diocese of Charleston tends to have a positive climate for diversity. Results indicated that to improve the schools´ current climate, training initiatives should focus on ways of creating a work environment in which faculty and staff members value and respect differing views, seek and enjoy interaction with a wide variety of individuals, and continue to work productively in those relationships.

To address these goals, initial training projects focused on increasing the percentage of ethnic minority representation in the schools. Training on retaining and recruiting ethnic minority administrators, teachers, and staff will enhance the diocese´s ability to welcome and embrace diversity. Celebrating diversity as a gift to the Church is a priority for the Diocese of Charleston.

The following list contains suggested steps for retaining and recruiting Black educators and employees for Catholic schools. Retaining and Recruiting Black Administrators, Teachers, and Staff for Catholic Schools

  • Develop a plan to attract retirees from public schools.
  • Ask your local Bishop and Office of Catholic Schools to invite religious communities of men and women to be partners by assisting with administration, teaching, and staffing.
  • Advertise job vacancies in television and radio stations, newspapers, periodicals, and magazines that target the Black community as primary consumers.
  • Advertise employment opportunities in church bulletins and by word of mouth in Black parishes and churches, both Catholic and non-Catholic.
  • Develop creative incentives to supplement salaries, such as free continued learning opportunities for those who maintain teacher certification.
  • Develop a relationship with a local college or university to provide internship opportunities for Black student teachers and other administrators.
  • Offer competitive salaries. By focusing on providing educational excellence, this initial investment will produce an increase in income in the future.
  • Appoint school board members who have experience in recruiting employees, and assign those board members to the task of developing a plan to retain and recruit Black administrators, teachers, and staff for the school.

Chapter 3

Preparing Students

Education always has been considered a fundamental ingredient of any program designed to promote the success and wellbeing of African Americans. In the United States, education is viewed as the means by which one can lift oneself from a life of poverty, marginalization, and exclusion. Education is a vital key to personal growth, development, and full participation in American life and society.

Catholic schools have experienced overwhelming success in providing children of all ethnic groups with a quality education. Among the many reasons that Catholic education has been effective (particularly in the Black community) is because of its adherence to Catholic philosophy, identity, and mission.

The philosophy of Catholic education is derived from an understanding of the mission that Christ entrusted to the Church. In the Gospel of Matthew, the final words of Christ to His disciples are recorded as the Great Commission in which Christ gave the command, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In these simple, yet powerful words spoken over 2000 years ago, Catholic Education finds its scriptural, theological, and philosophical origin.

In response to Christ´s command to preach, teach, and proclaim the Good News of salvation, Catholic schools have existed in one form or another for hundreds of years. Today, in our country and in the Black community, Catholic schools continue to carry out the Great Commission to teach, sanctify, and serve, as a part of the official teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium.

While the primary role of Catholic education is to teach faith and morals based upon the Gospel, included in that mandate is the responsibility to provide knowledge and skills that will equip followers of Christ to function effectively in the world. Thus, Catholic education exists not only to teach, but also to prepare followers of Christ to participate, contribute, and compete in an ever evolving and changing world.

Through competent instruction in various disciplines, guided by Gospel values, Catholic education ultimately seeks to prepare students and followers of Christ to work for the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the fullness of the reign of God on earth.

Historically, Catholic schools have been extremely successful in the work of teaching faith and morals, as well as preparing students to function effectively in the world. As a result, students attending Catholic Schools, especially in the Black community, fare decidedly better on regional, state, and national assessments than their counterparts in traditional schools.

Case Study #1

Students at Verbum Dei High School in the Los Angeles south-central community of Watts have consistently maintained a college acceptance rate of 85 to 90 percent. The majority of students at this all-male, predominately African American high school go on to post-secondary education, compared with less than 20 percent of their counterparts in the local public school.

Among the primary contributors to the successes at Verbum Dei are that the school has been guided by its scriptural and theological philosophy, and that school administrators have developed curricula programs and instructional methodologies that reflect this philosophy.


Successful schools have a well defined curriculum based upon a central philosophy. A majority of Catholic schools, from elementary to university levels, are comprehensive and inclusive of a full academic curriculum based upon state or federal guidelines.

Most Catholic schools at the secondary level in California are comprehensive and college preparatory. The curricula at these schools are aligned with the entrance requirements of the University of California College System. Therefore, students who graduate from a Catholic school in inner city Los Angeles or Oakland are prepared to compete with students throughout the state for placement in the California college and university system, as well as to compete on a global level.

In the past, students at a given high school or college in the Black community competed with each other for academic success, job placements, and career advancements. Today, as a result of integration, affirmative action, and continued desegregation in American life, students in the African American community are not necessarily competing with one another for jobs, academic placements, or career opportunities, but are competing with students worldwide.

“Successful Catholic schools must define curriculum and programs that prepare students for professions that are globally inter-related.”

Curricula programs that prepare students to compete on an international level in a diverse and globally connected world are paramount to student success. As a result of job outsourcing, instant communication technology, and worldwide distance learning opportunities, Black students are competing with students in India, Japan, Australia, Europe, as well as the United States and Canada. Therefore, Catholic schools, especially at the secondary and college level, must define curricula and programs that prepare students for globally interrelated professions. The world has become a global village, and education has become a commodity because it is the key to success in the global economy.

One very effective way Catholic schools are meeting this challenge is via the concept of the “international baccalaureate,” a program that identifies highly motivated students and gives them an opportunity to study and experience other cultures and world views. Students study the language and cultures of selected countries, first learning basic components of the language, then experiencing total immersion in that culture by living in the country of their choice for three to four months during their senior year of high school. This program can be extremely beneficial in exposing Black students to the global world of diversity and interdependence.

Although not all students can take advantage of the international baccalaureate program, Catholic schools can create an environment in which students are exposed to cultural diversity, preparing them for participation in a global community.

Case Study #2

The University of San Diego High School (now Cathedral High School) initiated the international baccalaureate in 1989 to prepare students for participation in the evolving global market, which at the time was dominated by Japan´s emerging economy.

David Tellers, an African American student, signed up for the program. After studying Japanese for two semesters, David lived with a family in Japan for three months during his Senior year, and was totally immersed in the language and culture.

David continued to study Japanese in college, and upon graduation from Loyola Mary Mount University in Los Angeles, he applied for a job with an international company based in Japan. He was readily accepted and hired.

Today, David speaks fluent Japanese and is regional manager of an international banking firm owned by a Japanese firm. David rightfully attributes his success as an international businessman to his roots in Catholic education, and in particular, to the international baccalaureate.

Case Study #3

St. Rita´s Catholic School is the largest elementary school in the Diocese of San Diego, with around 400 students. St. Rita´s is a particularly diverse school with Hispanics, Filipinos, Samoans, and African American as primary attendees.

Due to the school´s proximity to Mexico, Spanish is taught as a second language as early as fourth grade. Additionally, the school embraces the students´ diversity by enhancing the geography and social studies curricula to include the art, music, and culture from each of the cultures represented in the school.

As a result, students are taught from an early age to appreciate diversity. Early introduction of a second language and an international focus on diversity and world cultures is an excellent, affordable, and practical approach to teach our students to participate in the world of global diversity and interdependence.

To be successful, schools must seek to upgrade their curriculum in areas of technology, math, and science; these tools are crucial for participation in the new global order. Early introduction of technology into the curriculum is essential. Second graders at Sojourner Truth Learning academy in San Diego study math and science two hours weekly using computerized individual learning programs. As a result, second graders at this school scored higher in math and language arts than any other second grade class within the community on the Sat-9 state mandated testing. Their achievement demonstrates that it is never too early to introduce technology into the curriculum.

Identity and Mission

Effective Catholic schools have both a clear mission statement and a measurable Catholic identity.

A Gospel-oriented philosophy sets Catholic schools apart from traditional public or private schools. Once a Catholic school clearly articulates its philosophy, it can then develop its mission and identity.

Inherent to its Catholic identity, each Catholic school must have a mission statement that defines the school´s character, goals, methods, and objectives. The mission statement is a public announcement of the school´s identity, as well as a guide for the staff, parents, and students regarding the school´s purpose.

The essential component of the mission statement is a declaration of the primary purpose of the school: to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ through quality academic programs. If the Catholic school fails to assert the primacy of the Gospel mandate, then no matter how great and competent its academic program, faculty, or students, it fails the litmus test of Catholic identity and mission.

When a school clearly articulates and establishes its mission consistent with the Gospel message of Jesus and the Church, its Catholic identity will manifest itself, not just in words or a name, but in the everyday experience of the institution. It will be seen and lived in the curriculum, school climate, student discipline, and academic successes.

The need to maintain a relevant mission statement and Catholic identity is extremely important today in light of the recent paradigm shift in Catholic education. Because personnel, circumstances, and communities will change, the mission statement must be revisited and updated at least every three to five years. This updating will enable the school to be relevant and authentic in its service. The mission statement becomes the anchor that holds the school true to its calling.

Prior to 1960, Catholic mission and philosophy were easily identified because a majority of Catholic schools were staffed by priests and religious from various orders. By their very presence and in accordance with the charism of their communities, these individuals brought a definitive sense of mission and identity to Catholic schools.

Today, Catholic identity, mission, and philosophy may be more difficult to establish and maintain due to the declining numbers of clergy, and the substantial increase of lay men and women tasked with operating Catholic schools. Consequently, the need to clearly articulate a Catholic philosophy becomes increasingly important.

The mission statement should articulate the Catholic philosophy from which all activity within the institution flows. The mission statement must clearly and accurately define the school´s purpose and mission, as well as the strategies by which the mission is to be accomplished. An example follows.

Mission Statement of Marian Catholic High School, San Diego, California, revised September 2006

Marian Catholic High School endeavors to model the person and teachings of Jesus Christ at this campus through a holistic and nurturing educational experience.

We are a Catholic faith community dedicated to working with students and their parents to provide the finest religious, moral, academic, physical, social, and personal programs possible. In addition to promoting excellence in the skills and abilities developed in the various arts and disciplines, we, at Marian Catholic High School, endeavor to encourage in our students a positive sense of self-worth, self-discipline, personal responsibility, and successful interpersonal relationships with a commitment to Christian values in a Catholic tradition. We encourage students to become life-long learners who are Christ-centered and prepared to contribute and participate in a culturally diverse and global world community in response to the Gospel message and values of Jesus Christ.

School Climate

If a Catholic school is to be effective today, it must maintain a strong Catholic philosophy and identity, not only in the words of its mission statement, but in its climate, environment, and policies.

Authentic Catholic schools enable students to learn and achieve academically, as well as to develop and express their faith in activities that promote personal growth. Schools with a strong Catholic identity often provide liturgies, retreats, prayer, spiritual direction, and reconciliation.

At Mater Dei Catholic High School in San Diego, all students attend a school-wide liturgy each Wednesday; the sacrament of reconciliation is offered each Friday; and each class has a yearly overnight retreat for reflection and prayer. A vigorous religious education program, coupled with optional daily noontime chapel prayer and praise, enables students to participate in consistent spiritual activity. This daily reflection creates a prayerful campus atmosphere and identifies the school as an institution of learning that is spirituality rooted in Gospel values.

Loyola Catholic Grade School in Denver, ColoradoFaith formation and spiritual development are followed specifically in the design of all curricula at Loyola Catholic Grade School in Denver, Colorado.

Social Justice and Christian Service

Quality Catholic education goes beyond the concept of school identity, curriculum, and climate. Catholic education must also answer the call to social justice and Christian service.

The Book of Genesis tells us that when God created the world, He declared His creation was good. Although God indeed created a good world, sin has caused suffering and injustice to abound. The Christian´s task is to work to return the world to goodness, to alleviate suffering, and to initiate a time of justice.

Catholic education gives students skills and opportunities to foster goodness in the world. Just as Christ transforms the world through the Church, the Catholic school prepares students to participate in that transformation, and thus to bring about the reign of God, when all will be as God intended. To seek social justice is to work to return the world to the original goodness in which it was created.

Church teaching, based on the gospel message of Jesus, calls us to exercise an option for the poor and vulnerable, to put their needs first among all social concerns. The terms “poor” and “vulnerable” refer not only to those who lack financial assets, but also to those who are deprived of basic human and civil rights, or who are deprived of the right to full and equal participation in society. Thus, enabling students to work for social justice gives them an opportunity to respond to injustice by putting their faith in action.

In the 1971 apostolic letter, Call to Action (Octogesimo Adveniens), Pope Paul VI called Christians to bring about the social, political, and economic changes needed in our society and world. The letter offered a three-step process for pursuing justice known as “the Circle of Faith in Action.”

The first step in the process is to see the world as God intended it to be. The second is to analyze what is wrong and why. The third step is to take action to restore the world as God would have it. Work for justice is accomplished in two ways: first, via direct action or charity, alleviating immediate, short term suffering; and secondly, via social action, seeking ways to bring about a systemic change to an existing injustice.

Utilizing this three-step process of awareness, analysis, and action, Catholic schools at all levels of instruction can teach students to “do justice” and transform the world.

Case Study #4

Students from a Catholic high school in Washington, D.C., volunteer to work each day after school for a semester in a downtown soup kitchen where over 400 people are fed daily. The students clean, cook, serve food, and spend time talking or playing cards with the diners. These simple activities not only provide physical assistance to those in need, but also help to restore their sense of human dignity and self-esteem.

Students from a Catholic college in Cleveland, Ohio, volunteer to visit an AIDS hospice twice a week. They read to the sick, write letters for them, and spend time with them.

A group of students from Franciscan University of Steubenville works with the American Civil Liberties Union to bring about an end to capital punishment in the state of Ohio.

The students helping in a soup kitchen and visiting the AIDS hospice are demonstrating direct action or charity, while the students´ efforts to abolish the death penalty are an example of social action.

Many Catholic school students are involved in social justice. Two examples follow:

  • In Los Angeles, high school seniors take discarded clothing to a thrift store at which the poor can receive clothing without cost.
  • In a Catholic high school in southern California, each student must perform 100 hours of Christian service as a graduation requirement. The service can be in any nonprofit facility or venue from which they receive no pay for their service.

By pursuing social justice, students come to understand that being a follower of Christ requires more than prayer and church attendance; it also demands that we love God by serving our neighbors, the poor, and the weak. In the Gospels, Jesus clearly states that love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable, and that our love for God is best demonstrated by our love for our neighbor. Thus, social justice and the commandment to love God and neighbor are irrevocably linked.

The inclusion of Christian service and social justice in a curriculum teaches students the meaning of Christian love and solidarity, and most importantly, gives them opportunities to live that love and solidarity in active service. An emphasis on social justice helps students to understand that we all are children of God, members of the human family, regardless of our racial, ethnic, social, or economic background. As a family and a community of faith, we are responsible for each other, just as biologically related family members love and care for one another.

Thus, to be authentically Catholic, all Catholic school curricula must include social justice teaching and action. In addition to preparing students for Christian living, social justice programs can contribute to global diversity by teaching solidarity.


Finally, Catholic schools must be goal-oriented toward higher education at all levels. Students must know when they enter preschool that they are preparing for kindergarten; kindergarten students must know that they are preparing for elementary school; and so on. Catholic high school students must come to see education as an open-ended road to growth and opportunities.

It is vitally important that the expectation of higher education be stressed, promoted, and nurtured during the late elementary and middle school years. National data show that Black students do well on standard school and state assessments in early elementary school, but around fourth grade, a decline begins to occur, especially for males. As a result, many students enter high school ill prepared and with little vision of higher education, and after one or two years in high school, become discouraged and abandon all educational pursuits. While Catholic schools have higher rates of Black student retention, the need to promote higher education remains.

Parents and teachers must instill in students that better performance in elementary school will lead to better performance in middle and high school, which increases their chances of going on to post secondary education at the college or university level. Students must be prepared and encouraged to be life-long learners.

Catholic schools have done an excellent job in promoting ongoing education. Essentially, the Catholic school system can provide for students from preschool to post-graduate school. Catholic education has been a great benefit to many Black students, as well as a contributing factor to their stature as successful men and women today.

To maintain effective Catholic education, particularly within the Black community, periodic assessment and evaluation of the educational program, mission statement, philosophy, identity, and school climate be must be undertaken by the entire community. All academic curricula must be re-evaluated and revised yearly to ensure that competencies align with state and national guidelines. Schools should examine whether students are acquiring the knowledge and skills required to compete in an expanding world.

Although standardized testing may not be required in Catholic schools, it can be an effective tool in evaluating the curriculum and student competence levels. The ability to demonstrate learned competencies on a formal assessment is critical, especially at the high school level. Assessments also can reveal potential weaknesses in an academic program, providing opportunities for adjustment and improvement.

Another method of evaluating a Catholic school´s curriculum at the high school level might be to align the curriculum with the entrance requirements of a state, college, or university system. In California, the Catholic secondary school curricula are aligned with the state university system. Therefore, these Catholic schools prepare students to meet the entrance requirements of the state system. Catholic schools in the Black community could use this technique by aligning their curricula with Catholic schools such as Loyola Marymount University or Xavier University.

Xavier University, the only African American Catholic University in the United States and one of the top Black colleges in the nation, is highly regarded for its Catholicity and academic excellence. Therefore, Catholic elementary and high schools would do well to consider articulation with Xavier in developing a long term growth and achievement plan for African American students in Catholic schools. Examples of collaborative efforts are featured in the following list.

Collaboration in Catholic Education

Elementary and secondary Catholic schools could collaborate with Xavier University in a variety of ways. For example, schools could:

  • Sponsor College tours to Xavier University campus.
  • Establish partnerships with Xavier University´s Admissions Office.
  • Place catalogs, view books, videos, and applications in school guidance offices.
  • Encourage students to take advantage of special campus visitations opportunities, open houses, and Pre-Freshmen Summer Enrichment programs.
  • Promote Xavier University and ensure that their admissions staff receives invitations to national and regional college fairs.
  • Request a list of local Xavier alumni who could assist with recruitment efforts.
  • Invite Xavier alumni residing in different parts of the country to represent the university at high schools and recruitment fairs located in their respective geographical areas.

For additional information, write to:
Xavier University of Louisiana
Office of Admissions
1 Drexel Drive, Box 49
New Orleans, LA 70125

Instructional Integrity

While curricular alignment and design are vital contributors to student success, instructional integrity is of equal importance. “Instructional integrity” refers to the idea that teachers must teach with positive expectations of student learning. While many schools have curriculum programs that meet student preparation and competency needs, teacher expectations either can promote or be a detriment to student learning and success.

In minority communities, teachers frequently expect less of Black students than they do of students from other ethnic groups. Well-meaning teachers may water down the curriculum because “it is too much for them” or “they don´t need to know all of that.” However, because most schools operate in a standards-based curriculum, students do need to know all the material. The material will not be too hard for the students if the teacher takes time, breaks the material into parts, and builds on those sections. Lack of instructional integrity is in play when the teacher decides what “needs” to be taught, thus depriving students of the full range of knowledge needed to demonstrate competency on any standardized test.

Many people believe that poor performance by Black students on standardized tests is due to cultural differences, but this assumption is not categorically true. The primary reason for poor performance on standardized tests is not cultural, but instructional: the failure of the school to teach the full range of material that is being tested. Therefore, the majority of standardized tests given in primarily Black schools may be considered invalid, because the tests do not measure what is taught. Education programs will have little value for students if instructional integrity is not maintained in the curriculum.

The Parent/Teacher Interface

The defining factor that determines student success in any school is neither the curriculum, nor the instructional integrity of the teacher, nor the school philosophy, identity, or mission. Unequivocally, the primary factor in determining student success in school is parental involvement.

Parental involvement requires more than sending children to school each day, and intervening in times of crisis. To ensure student success, parents must work with the school, involve themselves with the curriculum, demand instructional integrity from teachers, and require full participation by their student in the learning process. While the school can promote student success in a variety of ways, the most defining factor that can shape student behavior, discipline, and learning is the active involvement of parents.

Every Catholic school should require parents to participate actively in their children´s education, through attendance at PTA meetings and the establishment of an ongoing dialogue with the student´s teachers regarding classroom behavior and academic progress. Parental involvement will require time and effort. However, parental involvement is also the surest means of promoting academic success.

Catholic education has been one of the pillars of success for many Americans, and especially for the African American community. Catholic schools have provided quality education based on Gospel values, and have helped thousands of African American men and women to compete successfully in a world that often was unsympathetic to our right to participate equally in the American society.

The need to maintain effective Catholic schools in the African American community is as great today it was in the past. Catholic schools can provide the tools and competencies necessary for participation in the new global economy. A strong Catholic philosophy and identity will manifest itself in a school climate that includes academic excellence, student spirituality, discipline, social justice awareness, and Christian service activities.

Thus, with parental cooperation, Catholic schools will be able to produce competent students who are can be catalysts for change by healing, renewing, and reclaiming our world, our nation, and our community. Each graduate of Catholic education ought to be a sign that the reign of God is at hand, through their contribution to and participation in a world, nation, and a community that are better because of their presence and involvement.

The next chapter discusses strategies for collaboration among parents, teachers, the community, and the Church.

Immaculate Conception School
Pictured are the grade school students of Immaculate Conception School. No date is given.

This picture is a part of the pictorial exhibit, “The History of Black Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston.”

Chapter 4

Collaboration among Parents, Teachers, Community, and Church

Catholic schools have a long, rich tradition of working with communities to support the welfare of students and families. Parents, school personnel, and community members have nurtured their relationships and worked tirelessly to make sure that children were successful.

Mary McDonald, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Memphis, oversaw the establishment of the inner city Jubilee Schools, featured in Chapter One. Reflecting on that experience, she states, “What started out as an initiative in Catholic education quickly extended far beyond the walls of the schools. As our outreach expanded, so did our accountability. We were investing in the future of the city and the greater Memphis community” (Momentum, 2004). The Jubilee Schools demonstrate Bishop Terry Steib´s commitment to overcome the divide of poverty with hope and education for both children and their communities.

Social capital is a key contributor to student success. Therefore, schools should strive to foster collaboration among stakeholders, to strengthen community outreach, and to increase parents´ involvement in their children´s education (Coleman, 1987). Students whose parents are involved with their education tend to have fewer behavior problems in school, fewer absences, and higher rates of academic achievement and graduation than those students whose parents do not become involved (Karther and Lowden, 1997).

Parent, school, and community partnerships are elemental to building trusting collaborative relationships among teachers, families, and community members. In the 1996 book, Rallying the Whole Village: The Comer Process for Reforming Education, author James Comer addresses the roles and responsibilities of families – as well as the educational, neighborhood, and business communities – in promoting the academic, psychological, social, ethical, and physical well-being of students. In rallying these communities, the focus is on the whole child.

Rallying the whole villageEffective teaching is a multidimensional enterprise grounded in a holistic educational philosophy. The primary objectives of Comer´s work were to close the gap between theory and practice, and to guide educators, parents, and decision makers through the process of developing educationally relevant and sound programs for underserved students.

The focus of this effort is sharing the responsibility of helping all children reach their optimal potential. The overarching perspective is that collaboration promotes healthy learning environments for students, which in turn lead to success in the academic, psychological, social, ethical, and physical realms. Collaboration between community, families, and schools promotes win/win educational opportunities and community growth.

D. Jean Clandinin and her associates (1993) noted that collaboration between school professionals and the surrounding community assists community-building efforts both inside and outside of school. The community as a whole has a strong impact on children´s self-perception and attitudes toward education. The community´s economic conditions and ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity are also important influences on students´ success in schools. The students´ family background, health, and economic situation affect their interest in, aptitude toward, and motivation for learning (Hindle, 1993). Since it is essential that educators understand the school community and student bacgrounds, parents are an invaluable resource, because they know their children best (Littky et al., 2004). Activities and events in the community can serve starting points for discussions and classroom activities. Additionally, collaboration with the community encourages good public relations between education professionals and those outside the educational setting, increasing community understanding of and support for the school.

One approach to achieving community collaboration is through the development of full-service community schools. As described by Joy Dryfoos, such a school operates in a public school building and is open to all community members "before, during, and after school, seven days a week, all year long. It is jointly operated and financed through a partnership between the school system and one or more community agencies" (2002).

In order to be successful, all members of the community – including young people, teachers, administrators, parents, community agencies, and business people – must work together in making important decisions regarding the full-service community school and its programs. These schools encourage students to be involved in community service and often employ a full-time coordinator who works in conjunction with local agencies to provide a range of services needed by community members. This model is often effective in improving collaboration, academic achievement, attendance, student behavior, and parental involvement (Dryfoos, 2002).

The promotion of school improvement by developing professional learning communities is currently quite popular (DuFour, 2004). Benedictine values of concern for community and respect for all persons emphasize the importance of developing a community of learning. The Commission on Catholic Education shares Martin Haberman´s (2004) view that for a school to become a learning community, its members must “share a common vision that learning is the primary purpose for their association and the ultimate value to preserve in their workplace and that learning outcomes are the primary criteria for evaluating the success of their work.” Haberman adds that modeling a love of learning is the surest way to promote enthusiasm for learning among students.

Other important attributes of learning communities include the continual sharing of ideas; collaboration, such as through team teaching and working together on program development and research; valuing a sense of community or camaraderie; and egalitarianism (Haberman, 2004). Students and parents are important partners in the vision of a learning community. Parents provide at least 10 hours of service to the school each year and are welcome to be in the school building at any time. For a school to exist as a learning community, there must be a culture of collaboration, not only among school staff, but among students and parents and the community, as well.

community hands

Crossroads Foundation: A Model of Collaborative Excellence

The Crossroads Foundation is dedicated to helping college-bound students from economically and socially stressed communities to attend and graduate from urban Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Crossroads enables students to achieve their fullest potential by providing individual support, educational enrichment, and tuition assistance.

Crossroads was established nearly 20 years ago as a family foundation. After a decade of service, the founders realized that the surest way to maintain the Foundation´s viability was to establish connections with the larger community. Over the past 10 years, Crossroads has grown into an organization that thrives on collaborating with Pittsburgh´s philanthropic community, business, corporate, and individual supporters.

One of Crossroads´ strongest collaborative activities is its partnership with businesses and corporations that pay Pennsylvania state taxes. A state initiative allows businesses and corporations to apply their tax credits to educational scholarship and programs of their choice. Many companies choose to apply their tax credits to Crossroads because of its record of success. Crossroads sends tri-annual newsletters to donors to report how their funds provide a quality education to our students.

Crossroads endeavors to provide students with educational resources that otherwise would be unavailable to them. Through collaboration with community groups, corporations, and individuals, Crossroads offers computer technology, preventative health care, and pre-college access programs. Crossroads also promotes parent/guardian involvement as key to student attendance and success in school.

As a result of Crossroads´ many positive outcomes, the number of students who want to attend Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh urban communities has increased. In response, Crossroads has begun a Development Campaign to ensure its scholarship services for years to come. The goal is to raise $6.5 million to build a $6 million endowment fund. This venture calls upon the magnificent partnerships of Crossroads´ board, the philanthropic community, corporations, and individual donors. This collaborative partnership continues to make a positive difference in the lives of students.

Veronica Morgan-Lee, Ph.D.Veronica Morgan-Lee, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Crossroads Foundation

When We Were at Our Best: A Student´s Story

I attended St. Benedict the Moor Catholic grade school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This year, the school celebrated 100 years of providing Catholic education in Pittsburgh´s Hill District. The Hill District, a Black community, is among the city´s most socially and economically distressed neighborhoods. This area is in the midst of “gentrification” or “urban renewal,” which moves out Black people and brings whites from the suburbs to enjoy the downtown renewal.

St. Benedict the Moor has been staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph for all 100 years. Today, the school enjoys the continued presence of six sisters as principal and teachers. St. Benedict the Moor is truly a wonderful blessing for the Hill District residents and greater Pittsburgh. Although, the majority of St. Benedict the Moor´s students are not Catholic, many of their parents attended and know the value of Catholic schools.

The teachers and administrators valued our culture and our Black spirituality. The school and Chapel have pictures of the Black saints and Black images of Jesus and Mary. My love for liturgical dance was cultivated by Sr. Donna Cronauer, who believed that we should celebrate our culture through dance, music, and Black prayers at school Masses. I learned about Black history through the annual Black History Bowls. We competed in the Catholic Forensic League and presented our history and culture. The Forensic League became a means of sharing the work of Black artists and writers with other students.

St. Benedict the Moor was at its best when the school embraced Black culture in every facet of our Catholic grade school education, and consistently celebrated the richness of Black culture in the community. Students receive an excellent education and opportunities to be leaders.

Upon graduation from St. Benedict the Moor, I attended Oakland Catholic High School. I was well prepared for my high school experience and confident in “my skin.” St. Benedict the Moor helped me to develop my “I can do anything” attitude, and I used my leadership skills to help the high school create openness to diversity by welcoming the Black students´ expressions of their culture by incorporating Black culture in student projects and events.

Ayisha Morgan-LeeAyisha Morgan-Lee

Chapter 5
The Commitment
Chapter 5: The Commitment

In this chapter, the Commission on Catholic Education encourages the reader to reclaim Catholic schools by making a commitment to stand in solidarity. Suggested next steps and action items are included.

Historically, the state of Catholic education in the Black community has been extremely positive, and the same is true today. Catholic schools are greatly valued for their instructional integrity, academic strength, student discipline, and evangelization outreach to the communities they serve. However, the increasing tendency to view “Catholic education” as being limited to elementary school ultimately will be detrimental to the success of Catholic education in the Black community. We must regard Catholic education in a broader scope to include not only the elementary school in our neighborhood, but also the diocesan high school and Catholic colleges and universities operating in and for the Black community.

This new vision of Catholic schools must be global and inclusive. Catholic education today must provide instruction at all levels of academic need, so that from preschool to graduate school, our students are prepared to compete and participate in a diverse and rapidly changing world. As the case studies in this book demonstrate, sustaining Catholic education in and for the Black community is achievable. The NBCC Commission on Catholic Education has been successful in providing information and consultative resources in support of this principle of global inclusiveness.

As previously discussed, limited financial resources continue to be a major obstacle to providing sustained and competent education to Catholic schools in Black communities. Operational costs have increased beyond the ability of individual communities to fund and maintain their schools. The decline in numbers of priests and religious as teachers and administrators has a negative financial impact on Catholic schools universally. However, in spite of these difficulties, Catholic education in our communities must continue. We can not afford to lose our schools, because they provide the invaluable gifts of hope, human development, and personal dignity to each of our students.

The Commission on Catholic Education asks you to stand in solidarity with us as we encourage the utilization of new ways to save, improve, and maintain Catholic schools in our communities across the country. Although the task will not be easy, we must work together to accomplish it.

Many Catholic schools in Black communities are closing or facing cutbacks due to a lack of financial resources. The Commission on Catholic Education has presented in this book several innovative financial strategies that have helped to maintain local Catholic schools. Additionally, the Commission has described several strategies for hiring and retaining competent educators, who are essential to producing academically competent students, prepared for a diverse world.

Thus working together, this call for solidarity in Catholic education can provide many opportunities for active participation and involvement by the people of God in the financial, economic, and academic reconstruction of Catholic schools in the Black community. Several lists of action items follow.

Ten Things You Can Do to Promote Educational Solidarity

  1. Promote the development of a national foundation to endow our schools with financial support for generations to come. It is a goal of the NBCC Commission on Catholic Education to establish a foundation that will provide grants to schools in need. The success of this initiative will depend on your support.
  2. Ask your local Bishop to support Catholic schools. Letter writing is an effective communication tool. Organizing listening sessions with your Bishop and a committee of concerned Catholics can foster problem solving when schools are facing closure. It is ideal to proactively communicate with your Bishop before a school is in jeopardy of closing. Your Bishop´s support certainly will impact your diocese, and may influence decisions on the national level, as well.
  3. Take ownership of Catholic schools by telling their success stories to others. Use opportunities in the community, such as social gatherings and public speaking engagements, to share an interesting, positive experience involving a Catholic school. Your story will demonstrate your commitment, and your audience certainly will find your compassion admirable.
  4. Adopt practices that contribute funds to Catholic schools. Many families choose to ask for financial donations to a Catholic school or educational foundation in lieu of flowers at funerals. The transmission of wealth and inheritance from one generation to the next is a sign of support that, if adopted, can provide future financial security for our Catholic schools.
  5. Encourage Catholic youth to take ownership of Catholic schools by instilling in them a desire to choose Catholic education over public education. Involve the community in making a youth´s desire to attend a Catholic school a reality.
  6. Set a goal in support of Catholic education in your Parish´s pastoral plan. Follow through and advance your goal to higher levels yearly.
  7. Support your diocesan office of Black Ministry. Confirm that support of Catholic education is a goal in the office´s pastoral plan. To ensure that the voice of African Americans is heard, confirm that that an African American serves on your Bishop´s curia.
  8. Include Xavier University as an option for college-bound students in your area. Educate diocesan leadership on the benefits of attending Xavier´s Institute for Black Catholic Studies.
  9. Help to recruit African American administrators and teachers for Catholic schools. Volunteer to serve on search committees when vacancies become available. Establish programs for retired African American educators from the public sector to consider work in Catholic schools after retirement. (Many public school systems have programs of this nature in place.) These programs offer cost savings, as well as continuance of quality.
  10. Pray that our stand of solidarity proves successful in sustaining Catholic education in and for the Black Community.

It is certain that the pastoral letter, What We Have Seen and Heard, paved the way for the work of the NBCC Commission on Catholic Education. Today, over 25 years later, we the Commissioners on Catholic Education are initiating a call for solidarity on Catholic education. Although significant challenges confront us, we will reclaim our schools, and solidarity is the answer.

Through the blessed gifts of the sacraments, Catholic education emerges. Not only is the calling for Holy Orders nurtured, our Baptismal right and duty to share in the work of Christ the Priest, Christ the Teacher, and Christ the King has its training ground in our Catholic schools. The grace of the sacrament of Confirmation calls and empowers us to live our faith boldly. We believe that, nourished by the grace of this sacrament, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us. We are more than confident that through the gifts of the Spirit and our solidarity, we will find a new ways to build, sustain, and maintain quality Catholic education for all people at all levels of learning.

We encourage groups and organizations to undertake focused action items. Such groups include administrators, religious leaders, teachers, lay professionals, and youth in the Black community. Examples of focused action items for targeted groups are presented on the following pages.

For Administrators, Catholic Religious Leaders, Teachers, and Lay Professionals within Black Communities

The following outline provides individuals, groups, and organizations with steps for sustaining Catholic schools in Black communities.

  • Create systemic change: Define and discern the level of commitment to Catholic education, and create institutional policies that guarantee access to Catholic education for those who are underserved by educational systems.
  • Shift the paradigm: To whom do Catholic schools belong? Advocate for models of Catholic schools that provide Catholic education to those who could not otherwise access it.
  • Support Catholic schools that presently exist in urban communities within your local diocese/archdiocese.
  • Work with Catholic schools offices to establish local involvement and ongoing accountability by Catholic schools for their mission, vision, and role of evangelization in urban communities.
  • Develop networks with national Catholic educational organizations and groups that provide support and resources to Catholic schools and Institutions of Higher Education such as Xavier University, Notre Dame, and St. Louis University. Partnerships with such groups will help to ensure the viability of Catholic elementary and secondary schools and their ability to attract talented educational leaders who will provide academic excellence and financial resources so that Catholic schools are accessible to all families.
  • Develop an accreditation model of Black Catholic religious, clergy and lay educators and experts who understand the needs and challenges of Catholic schools in urban communities
  • Utilize and or advocate economic resources to support Catholic education, such as the tax credits provided by local, state, and national governments.

For Our Youth

The Commission on Catholic Education is committed to developing a national consciousness regarding the importance of sustaining Catholic schools in Black and urban communities. It is imperative that students have an active role in achieving this goal.

To that end, the following outline provides youth with steps that can help to sustain Catholic schools. Please copy this page and distribute to youth in your community. Targeted areas should include youth in parishes, teen and youth groups, and youth in First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and CCD classes.

  • Talk to your pastor about the benefits of a Catholic education, and share this information with your parents.
  • Find out about Catholic schools in your area by asking a priest or CCD teacher, or by visiting your diocesan website.
  • Go on a tour of a Catholic school with your parents. Many Catholic schools have open house dates for perspective students to visit.
  • Talk to someone who attends a Catholic school and ask about their good experiences as well as their challenges.
  • Don´t be afraid to attend a Catholic School that does not have a large Black population. Take ownership of Catholic schools; they are for everyone.
  • Don´t let money be your obstacle… Ask your priest, the school, and your diocese about financial assistance.
  • Consider Xavier University, the only Catholic Historically Black College, as well as other Catholic universities. Visit Xavier´s website at Visit Xavier University during your teen years.
  • Consider a religious vocation as a career. Talk to your pastor, other priests, religious women and men, and deacons about the rewards of their vocation. National organizations, such as the National Black Clergy and Sisters Causes, can be valuable resources on vocational life.

Don´t be afraid to attend a Catholic School that does not have a large Black population. Take ownership of Catholic schools; they are for everyone.

Taking Ownership: A Student´s Story

The school I attend is predominately white. In the sixth grade, I was the only African American student in my all girl class. Other than keeping up with excessive homework and making friends, keeping friends was my biggest challenge. I wanted so badly to leave and go to public school.

Every time I felt bad, however, there was always someone I could go to and discuss my feelings. I felt relieved that the person I adopted as my mentor at my school was African American like me. Talking to an adult who looked like me helped me to see the positive things in my school.

Returning to Catholic school in the seventh grade was great. I began working on getting the Martin Luther King (MLK) holiday celebrated as a day off at my school. The first thing I did was celebrate with my community instead of going to school on the MLK holiday. The attendance clerk ruled this as an unexcused absence and told me that I would get a zero for the day. My parents challenged the school policy and discussed it with the school´s headmaster. I began to speak out on the importance of the MLK holiday in many of my classes, and after a few meetings with the headmaster, not only did I not get a zero for the day, the holiday was celebrated as a day off the next year.

Brie Merritt

My school listens and welcomes ideas on being more welcoming. I am learning so much about my Catholic faith and realize that I have so much to give to and receive from our Father in heaven. I am now in the ninth grade and am looking forward to returning to the same Catholic school after my summer break. I have many friends from many different ethnic backgrounds at my school. I study hard and appreciate all that receiving a Catholic education has done to make me who I am today. In my parish I am a youth leader, altar server, lector, and I sing in the youth choir. I appreciate the many sacrifices my family makes in order for me to receive a Catholic education.

Meet the Authors

Lois J. Carson is a member of St. Anthony Catholic Church in San Bernardino, CA. She a co-founder of the Assembly for Catholics of African Descent, which serves as the office for Black Catholics in her diocese. Ms. Carson graduated from St. Augustine Catholic School in Memphis, Tennessee, and helped to build an elementary school at her parish. Under her leadership, tuition assistance is provided to 10 Black families by the Assembly in support of its policy to sustain urban schools against closure. The Assembly also supports six scholarships for Black students at the three Catholic high schools. Ms. Carson, who has attended each Congress since 1987, serves as the Western Regional coordinator for the National Black Catholic Congress. This former high school English teacher received her Bachelor´s degree in English from California State University in San Bernardino, CA; Master degrees in English and Education from the University of California in Riverside. She was a trustee for the San Bernardino Community College district for 24 years.

Sr. Roberta Fulton, S.S.M.N., is a sister of St. Mary of Namur, Eastern Province, Buffalo, New York. She is a native of Kingstree, South Carolina. She graduated with honors from the University of the District of Columbia with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, and she received her Master of Science degree from Buffalo State University with honors. Fulton holds certification in Administration/ Supervision. She is also the recipient of the National Black Sisters´ Conference 2000 Harriet Tubman Award, and a most honored appointee to the Commission for Higher Education, USC, Sumter, South Carolina.

Fulton served as the adjunct professor at Alabama State and Niagara Universities. She also was the principal of Resurrection Catholic School in Montgomery, Alabama; Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School in Fort Worth, Texas; Catholic Central School in Buffalo, New York; and St. Jude Catholic School in Sumter, South Carolina.

Fulton is currently a principal at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Columbia, South Carolina. She is an active member of the National Black Sisters´ Conference, the NAACP, and Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary. Sr. Roberta wholeheartedly believes that the education of our children is a ministry of love.

Dorothy Gupton, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, has spent her career as an educator in both the public and Catholic school systems. She served as Associate Superintendent of Schools in the Diocese of Nashville prior to her retirement in June 2006. Ms. Gupton has been a teacher, coach, principal, and Assistant Program Director of Teacher Training. She was Vice Chair of the first elected School Board for the Metropolitan Public School System. She holds a Master of Education degree from Tennessee State University and a Specialist in Education degree from Peabody-Vanderbilt University.

Ms. Gupton participates in many professional associations, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Catholic Education Association. She is involved in local organizations, the Ladies of Charity, the Catholic Business Women League, and the Dismas House, and she volunteers as Development Director for her parish school, St. Vincent de Paul. She currently serves as an Education Consultant in the Diocese of Nashville and Memphis.

Veronica Morgan-Lee has over 31 years of expertise as a successful professional educator, administrator, and social worker. She is an institution builder and visionary empowering individuals, groups, and organizations toward successful achievement of their mission and goals.

Dr. Morgan-Lee is the CEO of The Village, Inc., a family consulting firm that focuses on building institutions through vision, education, culture, history, and leadership. She is presently the Executive Director of Crossroads Foundation, which provides high school tuition scholarships and academic support to students in targeted Catholic elementary schools who would otherwise be unable to attend Catholic high schools.

Dr. Morgan-Lee received her Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA; and a Master´s Degree in Social Work from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1993, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from her alma mater, Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, for outstanding work in the areas of race, religion, and social justice. Dr. Morgan-Lee is faculty member of the Xavier University Institute for Black Catholic Studies. Dr. Morgan-Lee is a popular national speaker throughout the country in areas of education, leadership, and race relations.

Freida D. McCray is presently Coordinator of the Adult Faith Formation Program and Coordinator/Facilitator of Little Rock Scripture Study Program. She is also a member of the Bishop´s Pastoral Planning Committee, the Urban Subsidy Grant Review Committee, the National Black Catholic Congress Leadership Commission, the Congress Entertainment Committee, and the Diocese of Rochester´s Congress Implementation Committee.

Ms. McCray graduated from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee with Bachelor of Science degrees in Social Work and Psychology. Further academic pursuits include completion of a Master´s degree in Educational Administration (with a Higher Education concentration), a Master of Science in Education from State University of New York at Brockport, and post graduate work at the University of New York at Buffalo. Her professional career includes 12 years in social work and 24 years in College Admissions and Educational Administration. She presently is employed as a per diem teacher for the Rochester City School district and works independently as an Educational Consultant and Conference Planner/Coordinator.

Mary Crowley McDonald is the Secretary of Education and Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Memphis. Previously, Dr. McDonald served as Principal of St. Benedict at Auburndale and Principal of St. Agnes Academy elementary. She has taught at both the elementary and high school levels, and was an Adjunct Professor for the University of St. Thomas at Christian Brothers University and at the University of Memphis. She has been involved in education since 1966 when she started as a math teacher at St. Maria Goretti High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. McDonald is a graduate of Leadership Memphis, the Regional Representative of National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA); serves on the University of Notre Dame´s Task Force for Catholic Education and the NCEA Strategic Planning Task Force; and has been involved with the Governors´ Alliance for Regional Excellence in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. She is the Board President of Diversity Memphis and an advisory board member of Gateway Technology, Inc., Facing History and Ourselves, Shelby County Regional Health Council, Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust, and EdPac. She also participates in the Memphis 2005 Strategic Task Force, National Conference for Community and Justice, Germantown Youth Leadership Conference, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the National Civil Rights Museum education collaborative. Dr. McDonald received her Bachelors degree from the Immaculate University in Pennsylvania, Masters from the University of California and Doctorate from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Dr. McDonald was the 2002 recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award given by the National Council for Community and Justice. She received the Notre Dame Exemplar Award for Outstanding Contributions to Education from Notre Dame University (1997), and has received numerous other awards, including the Immaculate College Amethyst Award (2001) for outstanding contributions in community service and education, the St. Agnes Academy Award, 150 Women Who Make A Difference (2001), and the Educational Courage Award (1999). Dr. McDonald leads by example and works to make education a vehicle for understanding diversity, promoting unity, and making the future brighter for all children.

Dr. McDonald is the author of A Light Reflected, she writes a regular column for the West Tennessee Catholic Newspaper, and she is a guest writer for several local and national publications. Dr. McDonald gives workshops and speeches at the local and national level on numerous topics, including faculty and staff development, leadership, and parenting. Dr. McDonald and her husband, Joe, have two adult children and six grandchildren.

Kathleen A. Merritt is the Director of Ethnic Ministries for the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. She facilitates workshops and training initiatives on diversity in schools, parishes, and missions across the state of South Carolina. This Greenville, South Carolina, native earned a Bachelor´s degree in Psychology from the University of South Carolina and a Master´s degree in Clinical Counseling from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at The Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ms. Merritt currently serves on the board of advisors for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees; Evangelization Chair for the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators; Facilitator for the NBCC Leadership Commission on Catholic Education; and Board Chair for the Greenville Mental Health Center, South Carolina Department of Mental Health. She is a member of the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women and Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary. In 1999, she was inducted in The Order of the Jessamine in recognition of her outstanding contributions to her local community. She was the 2002 recipient of the Baha´is Human Rights Award for her outstanding work in teaching sensitivity and diversity appreciation to over 1000 youth in South Carolina. She is a national presenter and conducts workshops in subject areas focusing on youth and young adults, creating welcoming parishes, and healthy relationships.

Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, O.P., Ph.D., a member of the Adrian Dominican Congregation since 1959, is the Director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies and the Katharine Drexel Professor of Systematic Theology at Xavier University of Louisiana. Previously, she held academic positions at The Catholic Theological Union, Loyola University in Chicago, and the University of Dayton.

She has served as a theologian, author, educator, pastoral minister, lecturer, liturgist, spiritual director, social worker, and administrator. Sr. Phelps inaugurated or participated in the creation of several black Catholic programs: The National Black Catholic Sisters´ Conference, The Institute for Black Catholic Studies, the Augustus Tolton Lay Ministry Program at Catholic Theological Union, and the Black Catholic Theological Symposium.

Sr. Phelps received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Siena Heights College in Adrian, Michigan; a Master of Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and a Master of Arts in Theology from Saint John´s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. She received a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Catholic University of America, with a specialization in Ecclesiology. She has participated seminars throughout the United States as well as in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, and Italy.

Sr. Phelps is the editor of Black and Catholic: The Challenge and Gift of Black Folk. She co-edited the documentary, Stamped with the Image of God: African Americans as God´s Image in Black. She has published over 50 articles in theological and ministerial journals on a variety of topics pertinent to the mission of the Church.

She has served on the boards of the National Blacks Sisters Conference; the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA); and the Center for Research in the Apostolate. She was the first co-chair of the CTSA´s Committee for Under-represented Ethnic-Racial Groups. She is a member of several professional societies, including the American Society of Missiology, the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. She served as the Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium from 1991 to 2001. Currently, she serves on the academic committee of the Board of Trustees for Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan.

Brother Gary Sawyer, ECSA, resides in Denver, Colorado, where he engages in the ministry of Catholic education as an elementary school teacher in the only predominantly African American school in the Archdiocese, and director of religious education in the two predominantly African American parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Brother Gary holds an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development and Administration, a Bachelor´s degree in Human Growth and Development, and a Master´s degree in Education with specialization in Administration and Supervision. Brother Sawyer is a graduate of the Imani Catechists Certification program through the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana.

Deacon Marvin Threatt, PhD., was ordained in 1983 to the permanent deaconate for the diocese of San Diego. He has served as principal of Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles and is presently a principal of Sojourner Truth Learning Academy in San Diego. Deacon Threatt holds a Bachelor of Science degree from George Washington University, a Master´s degree in Education from the University of San Diego, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Honolulu, Hawaii.

A noted lecturer and motivational speaker, Deacon Threatt has conducted retreats, workshops, and leadership training seminars throughout the country. He is especially noted for his work in education at the elementary and secondary level, youth and young adult ministry, as well as contemporary spirituality and worship. The title of Deacon Threat´s talk for adults and teens is “The Role of Faith in the Family Value System.” After hearing Deacon Threatt speak, your teenagers will be on their feet – and so will you.

We, the writers of this book, sincerely thank you for your interest in sustaining Catholic education in and for the Black community.


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