A new playground in Johnston Square -- where there are precious few places for young children to play -- is reason enough for celebration. But the dedication this morning of a quarter-acre play area by Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Archbishop William Keeler and his predecessor, Archbishop William Borders, a statement to inner-city communities that Catholic schools are here to stay. The playground, connected to the St. James and John School, has been a joint effort of the city, the archdiocese, the school and the six inner city parishes that sponsor it.
St. James and John is one of two Catholic schools serving East Baltimore's lower income areas. Both schools lost their sponsoring parishes during the archdiocese's consolidation of urban churches three years ago, and since then the community has worried that the schools, too, will vanish. This $50,000 playground is reassurance that the archdiocese is determined not to abandon its educational mission in the inner city. Baltimore's Catholic schools -- which operate with a mere 1 percent drop-out rate and send 90 percent of their high school graduates on to college -- perform a special mission in lower income areas, where parents often work two or three jobs to afford their share of the tuition. (Many families receive financial aid, but nobody gets a full scholarship.)
The playground is named after Archbishop Borders, who, during his 15 years as head of the archdiocese, often braved the criticism of suburban parishes for his financial support of inner city parochial schools -- where as many as 85 percent of the students are non-Catholic. Archbishop Keeler's decision to recognize his predecessor's contributions to these schools sends a welcome signal that he intends to continue this support.
Churches are often criticized for not doing more to alleviate social problems. So the archdiocese deserves a salute for its success in inner city education, where less well-to-do families are desperately seeking help.