How can we provide our children with a Catholic education?
Q Dear Father:
My husband and I would love to send our children to Catholic schools next school year. Unfortunately, the tuition is very expensive, even for grade school! We also want to contribute financially to our parish and stay active in it. We both work, so homeschooling would be a sacrifice. How can we ensure that our children receive a quality Catholic education without going broke?
— Anonymous in Ohio
A Dear Anonymous in Ohio:
Thank you for your question, and thank you for your devotion to being a wife, a mother, and a faithful Christian. Your dedication to both your family and your parish is so abundantly clear in the way you phrased your question. It is obvious that you and your husband are taking very seriously your responsibilities as the primary educators and formators of your children. The Second Vatican Council taught that “the role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education, 3; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2221).
Many of the problems we have in our society and in our Church when it comes to educating and forming the next generation of citizens and Christians stem from parents not adequately fulfilling their duty to be the first and best educators of their children. This education and formation, of course, begins in the home. As you well know, the Church asks you and all parents to create “a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues” (CCC, 2223). The home should be the place where children learn and are formed in all the virtues, both natural (for example, justice, temperance, fortitude, and so forth) and supernatural (faith, hope, and charity).
The home should also be the place where children first learn to pray, be evangelized, and grow in the faith (see CCC, 2225–2228). This is done by both word and deed — by formal instruction, but also by the influence of the daily routine, your example as parents, and the whole family. As Jesus grew in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52), so we all are to grow in “wisdom and age and favor” before God and man. As parents you are particularly responsible to set an excellent example and aid your children to be educated in all things as you help each of them embrace their call to holiness and to discover their personal vocation. In this duty you have the saintly example and the heavenly intercession of Mary and Joseph. You do not and need not stand alone in your fulfillment of these duties.
The parish community and the local Church (the diocese or archdiocese) is also duty-bound to aid you and your husband in fulfilling your roles as parents and educators. Unfortunately, residents of the United States have a very unjust public educational system that does not directly support the parents’ right to choose formation and education for their children. Our type of funding system for schools was condemned by the Second Vatican Council as a violation of religious liberty:
The family, since it is a society in its own original right, has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive. Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education, and the use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the right of parents are violated, if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs, or if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all (Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom, 5).
Because of this injustice, dioceses and archdioceses throughout the country are struggling to provide affordable Catholic education for all. That being said, the dioceses and the archdiocese in Ohio all are committed to ensuring that all Catholics have access to Catholic schools even if they cannot afford the full tuition. I highly recommend that you meet with your pastor to work out what this will look like for your family. Usually there is some paperwork involved, an independent assessment of your financial situation by a confidential, third-party financial firm, and an application for each child to his or her age-appropriate school.
Of course, as parents you will continue your role as the primary educators of your children in all things. You will maintain the right and the duty to access the formation your children are receiving at their Catholic school. You will want to take an active part in helping your school become a true center of educational excellence and a place of prayer and training in holiness. You will want to help your children’s Catholic school to be truly Christocentric — centered on Jesus Christ because Jesus is the reason our Catholic schools exist. They exist to help each and every student come “to know, love, and serve him” in this life and “to be with him forever in the next.” In other words, our schools exist to help parents form their children as true Christians — “other Christs” — in the world.