Moral Briefs – Chapter LXIV – Catholic Schools

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThe Catholic school system all over this land has been erected and stands dedicated to the principle that no child can be properly, thoroughly and profitably – for itself – educated, whose soul is not fed with religion and morality while its intelligence is being stocked with learning and knowledge. It is intended, and made, to avoid the two defects under which our public school system labors – the one accidental, the other fundamental-namely, extravagance and godlessness. The child is taught the things that are necessary for it to know; catechism and religion take the place of fads and costly frills.

The Catholic school does not lay claim to superiority over another on purely secular lines, although in many cases its superiority is a very patent fact; it repudiates and denies charges to the effect that it is inferior, although this may be found in some cases to be true. It contends that it is equal to, as good as, any other; and there is no evidence why this should not be so. But it does pretend to give a more thorough education in the true sense of the word, if education really means a bringing out of that which is best in our nature.

Neither do we hold that such a training as our schools provide will assure the faith and salvation of the children confided to our care. Neither church, nor religion, nor prayer, nor grace, nor God Himself will do this alone. The child’s fidelity to God and its ultimate reward depends on that child’s efforts and will, which nothing can supply. But what we do guarantee is that the child will be furnished with what is necessary to keep the faith and save its soul, that there will be no one to blame but itself if it fails, and that such security it will not find outside the Catholic school. It is for just such work that the school is equipped, that is the only reason for its existence, and we are not by any means prepared to confess that our system is a failure in that feature which is its essential one.

That every Catholic child has an inherent right to such a training, it is not for one moment permitted to doubt; there is nothing outside the very bread that keeps its body and soul together to which it has a better right. Intellectual training is a very secondary matter when the immortal soul is concerned. And if the child has this right, there is a corresponding duty in the parent to provide it with such; and since that right is inalienable, that duty is of the gravest. Hence it follows that parents who neglect the opportunity they enjoy of providing their offspring with a sound religious and moral training in youth, and expose them, unprepared, to the attacks, covert and open, of modern indifferentism, while pursuing secular studies, display a woeful ignorance of their obligations and responsibilities.

This natural right of the child to a religious education, and the authority of the Church which speaks in no uncertain accents on the subject go to make a general law that imposes a moral obligation upon parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Parents who fail in this simply do wrong, and in many cases cannot be excused from mortal offending. And it requires, according to the general opinion, a very serious reason to justify non-compliance with this law.

Exaggeration, of course, never serves any purpose; but when we consider the personal rights of children to have their spiritual life well nurtured, and the general evils against which this system of education has been judged necessary to make the Church secure, it will be easily seen that there is little fear of over-estimating the importance of the question and the gravity of the obligations under which parents are placed.

Moreover, disregard for this general law on the part of parents involves contempt of authority, which contempt, by reason of its being public, cannot escape the malice of scandal. Even when the early religious education of the child is safeguarded by excellent home training and example and no evil effects of purely secular education are to be feared, the fact of open resistance to the direction of Church authority is an evil in itself; and may be the cause of leading others in the same path of revolt – others who have not like circumstances in their favor.

About the only person I know who might be justified in not sending his children to Catholic schools is the “crank,” that creature of mulish propensities, who balks and kicks and will not be persuaded to move by any method of reasoning so far discovered. He usually knows all that is to be learned on the school question – which is a lie; and having compared the parochial and the public school systems in an intelligent and disinterested manner – which is another – he finds that the Catholic school is not the place for his children. If his children are like himself, his conclusion is wisely formed, albeit drawn from false premises. In him, three things are on a par; his conceit, his ignorance and his determination. From these three ingredients results a high quality of asininity which in moral theology is called invincible ignorance and is said to render one immune in matters of sin. May his tribe decrease!