As the recent letter writer has pointed out, the Institute of Notre Dame has a cherished history that will not soon be forgotten (”Baltimore’s IND: Empty classrooms for the first time in 174 years,” Sept. 3). Unfortunately, the history of IND and its closure has been part of nationwide trend in Catholic education that began over 50 years ago. One of my aunts was the mother superior over time of three convent schools or academies, and she explained to me that a sea change occurred after Vatican II. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics believed that nuns and monks were answering a higher calling than married or single Catholics. The council changed the thinking claiming that men and women in religious orders had a different, not higher, calling. It did not take long for this to sink in, causing a mass exodus of men and women from their religious communities.
Of course, not everyone left. Many stayed but were given greater freedom in choosing their ministries. With more options, many left teaching positions in parish parochial schools and worked in outside institutions owned by their religious communities. To continue these institutions, the teachers who had left had to be replaced by lay people. These new faculty members had to be paid a salary and provided health and retirement benefits. In the past, the nuns, priests and brothers had subsidized Catholic education by providing a cheap labor force. In recent years, the religious who had stayed in teaching have retired or died. Supporting a mostly or totally lay faculty has become a very expensive proposition. Tuition can only be raised so much before it becomes unaffordable. Due to historical inequities, women alumnae have been less able to provide financial support for struggling schools than men.
In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have seen several Catholic high schools close in the post Vatican II era including: IND, Towson Catholic, Seton, Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Keogh, Mount St. Agnes and Our Lady of Pompei. I may have overlooked a couple more. More Catholic students are being educated at taxpayer expense in public schools than ever before. I have been extremely disappointed in the response of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It really didn’t have to come to this. It’s all about priorities, and education of children in Baltimore apparently is at the bottom of the list. The highly-touted Mother Lange School is simply replacing schools that have closed. One would think that the Archdiocese of Baltimore, with its documented history of systemic racism and segregation, would make more of an effort. Ironically, the first parochial school in our nation was established in Baltimore.
I am very proud of the nuns in my family who were involved in teaching in Catholic schools from the first grade to the college level. Catholic laity have been given the challenge of continuing this great legacy with little clerical support. Hopefully, we are up to the task.
Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore
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