Earlier this month, I wrote that I would begin a series of podcasts on the topic of Catholic education. Unfortunately, the digital voice recorder that I own has very poor sound quality. Therefore, I have decided that I will post the series on this website as a series of articles. Today, we begin our study of “Divini Illius Magistri” (On Christian Education) by Pope Pius XI.
One of the topics addressed in this important encyclical is the topic of co-education. According to Pope Pius XI, educating male and female students together implies that they are equal in abilities and discipline. As he points out, however, this is not the case neither in the school nor in the Christian family. He also clearly states that modest should be especially observed at various sports events. Clearly, therefore, Pope Pius XI was against co-education during the formative years of a child’s education.
It is interesting that most schools fifty years ago were not co-educational. Most Catholic elementary schools were co-educational, but high schools were segregated. The high schools that were established for girls were run by such teaching orders as the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and the Ursulines. The high schools established for boys were administered by the Jesuits, the Christian Brothers, and the Xaverian Brothers among others.
In every high school, different skills were taught to the young ladies and young men, who attended. For the most part, both sexes were taught about theology and other subjects such as math, science, and literature. But there were other subjects such as flower arranging and home economics that were taught to young ladies, while certain subjects were taught only to young men such as engineering or wood shop. Of course, things have changed over the past forty some years.
It is interesting, of course, that there are still high schools that exist strictly for one sex. For example, the famed Ursuline Academy in New Orleans only teaches girls. Yet I wonder how many other such institutions still exist. From what I have heard, there have been many schools that have closed down due to lack of attendance or because there were other Catholics schools that are co-educational.
I can think of several different colleges over the last forty years that have merged together due to declining finances. For example, Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles was created by the merger of two different colleges. One had been specifically established for the education of young men, while the other for young women. Due to changing times, however, the colleges merged into one university.
However, there were other colleges and high schools that did not merg and thus were forced to close down. The Sisters of the Holy Names, for example, ran a small college in the city in which I live. This college was a liberal arts to which many young ladies were sent to study. The Jesuit college across town became co-educational in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was not a major sea change as the two colleges could co-exist. Declining attendance and a large deficit, however, forced the sisters to close down the college. Indeed, one of them was bitter enough to say, “The Jesuits have taken the bread from our mouths.” What she meant by this can clearly be understood from the above context.
Yet should there be separate high schools and colleges today? Should the genders be separated? On some level, I think that there should be some segregation. During the teenage years, it makes sense to separate young men from young ladies in order to avoid scandal, if nothing else. In our increasingly sexualitzed culture, it does make sense to segregate the sexes. Colleges are a different matter altogether.
It seems to me, however that most of what Pope Pius XI said is true. Men and women are created by God to fulfill certain roles. In our own time, however, things have changed. Therefore, it is much more important for us now to pray and sacrifice for the preservation of the Catholic family.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us!