Sunday, March 02, 2008

Catholic High Schools and their Effect on the Practice of Faith

Here's a sobering statistic:

The fastest growing "religious" group in America? Those without any religious affiliation--now 16.1% of the U.S. adult population.

So says the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, based on a study of 35,000 U.S. adults, the results of which were released on February 25, 2008.

According to this study, the Catholic Church has been hit especially hard: Roughly 10% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics--half of whom have joined Protestant churches, whereas most of the other half have no religious affiliation. On the whole, Catholics now account for 21% of the adult population, down 5% from just 8 years ago, the last time the study was conducted. The drop would be more precipitous, the study says, were it not for the influx of Latino immigrants, most of whom are Catholic.

In light of those statistics, an earlier study published by Gautier (2005) on the effect of Catholic high schools on the practice of faith becomes more important. The key findings in that study were the following:

--Those Catholic who attend a Catholic high school for at least 3 years are half as likely as those who have never attended to convert to another faith.

--Catholics who attend a Catholic high school for at least three years are just less than half as likely (44%) to drop all religious affiliation as those Catholics who didn't attend Catholic high schools.

--Those who attended Catholic high school are more likely to identify themselves as "highly committed" Catholics (26% to 19%), and

--Are likely to pray daily or more often (70% to 59%), and

--Regard the Catholic Church as "quite important or among the most important parts of their lives" (77% to 67%) and

--"Would never leave the Catholic Church" (66% to 52%).

An interesting footnote to the Gautier study is that these positive effects were not found between those who only attended a Catholic grade school and those who had not. Catholic high schools, not grade schools, make the difference.

No doubt the most important variable in whether or not our kids will grow up to practice the faith is the liveliness of our own faith as we raise our children. Those who sacrifice to send their kids to Catholic high schools, with tuitions ranging from $5,000 to $15,000/year, are already parents who, in the aggregate, are more likely to practice the Catholic faith in their homes. Thus, these statistics alone do not prove a "cause-effect" relationship between attending Catholic high schools and practicing the faith.

However, coupled with the realization that teenagers are searching for credible Christian role models apart from their parents as a means of establishing their own identity, given that teens are likelier to feel comfortable in the public expression of their faith if their peers are also engaged in the same public expression, or that well taught theology classes can extend a teen's understanding and appreciation of their faith beyond the simplistic level of a child's, or that Catholic high schools allow teens to practice their faith in a manner that integrates with their daily lives (faith isn't just a "Sunday thing"), I believe that Catholic high schools have, in fact, a profound long term influence on young adults' attitudes and dispositions regarding their faith.

There are, of course, no guarantees. As parents, we do all we can to help kids form their faith, but ultimately, they must decide to answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" on their own. May God's grace help them conclude, as Peter did, "You are the Messiah, the Son of God"!

1 comment:

THERGE said...

These are wonderful statistics, but of course, they are due not only to the schools but also the parents who would send their children to such school.

I must admit that I am very thankful for my years at St. Bede and Catholic High, but I have found it far easier to live my faith day to day at Ohio State than I ever did in Catholic schools: I can finally satisfy my soul's need for daily Eucharist, I can confess my sins any day, and I have much more time for prayer; it is up to me, of course, and MCPS laid the foundation, but I cannot help but note the irony.

God bless the Catholic schools