Earlier today, I was watching a video that was made at a local Marian Eucharistic Conference that took place this year on the campus of the university that I attend. I was surprised that very few young people showed up and the large gymnasium that had been rented for the event seemed almost empty compared to how full it usually is during the school year. As I watched the video, I wondered if we really are failing to reach out to your young people and to educate them in the faith. Indeed, it is something that I wonder about a lot as I wander the hallowed halls of the campus that I have called home for the last two and a half years.
Indeed, it seems to me that Catholicism has taken a hit during the last forty years with regard to its youth. Fifty years ago, the Church was educating its youth very well and preparing them for the world as both intellectuals and as good Catholics. Countless vocations were fostered by the examples of nuns, brothers, and priests teaching at numerous colleges, seminaries, high schools, and elementary schools. I can think of countless vocation stories among the older generation that began with the example of a teacher that was a brother, sister, or priest in a teaching order of the Church such as the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Felician Sisters, or the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Once again, the questiont that must be asked is where did we go wrong and are things changing?
In many ways, the 1960s are once again to blame for what happened to our Catholic education system. With the vanishing habits, cassocks, and birettas came a new examination of what the Second Vatican Council was teaching and how it was supposed to be implemented. Now that a new catechesis was called for, how on earth were the teachers in the classrooms supposed to respond to it? How could they come up with something after so many decades of using the Baltimore Catechism and its rote memorization routine from which so many children profited by?
In many ways, the efforts of these early catechists were no better than those of their contemporaries in Protestant denominations. Although I have no personal experience of this since I studied about the Catholic faith on my own, I have heard that catechesis during the last thirty years has been dismal in some places and great in others. It is my hope that we can experience a sea change with the new Papal administration and that things will turn around for our young people, but will they? How many lost generations will it take before the Church realize how much of a problem it has on its hands?
As I wander the halls of the campus and look around at the venerable walls of the administration building, my memories wander back to the old days when the college was first established. For those of you that know my city, you will know that it is divided by a rather large river. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area that housed my university was farmland. The administration building, one of the first to go up on the campus, originally served as a boarding school for young men and boys. Education was offered for a small minimal fee to any boy that could come and pay.
In those days, the education was a classical one with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, grammar, theology, the humanities, and Latin. For the most part, other courses were added when the Jesuit fathers saw that there was a need to add them. Indeed, the college adapted itself to the changing needs of the community that brought young men to its doors.
As one looks at the photographs in the administration building, one notices how different things were. The annual school play was usually a Passion play or Shakespeare. Yet with time, things started to change. New student organization were set up, girls were allowed on campus for the first time. Gradually, the tide was changing. As the 1940s and the 1950s continued, the college was still centered around its Catholic faith. Yet within the next forty years, this same college would be forced to reassess its Catholic identity.
It is precisely during those forty years that changes took place that have tremendously shaken the Catholic world. In terms of education, as I have pointed out above, this was a time of unrelieved disaster. If you visit my campus today, you would find only a handful of students attending noon Mass. Quite frankly, this is not surprising to me in the least. After all, the campus offers three Masses every day and I am only familiar with one. I have not tallied results nor have I attended the others, but I am sure that evening Mass is more well attended.
Attendance statistics aside, the campus’s Catholic identity seems to be a bone that is consistently gnawed at. On the one hand, the Jesuits are still in a state of denial about the current state of the Church. As I heard it from a friend of mine that is rather well placed in these circles, many of them are still living in the 1970s and God knows what the ’70s were like for the Church. On the other hand, as I have noted in another recent article, there has been a growing liberal movement on campus that is seeking such things as pro-choice groups, more tolerance for minorities, and other such things. In essence, the school is in a state of crisis. It can take one of two roads: either continue lumbering down the same road that it is currently one and become more secularized (God forbid!) or change course and once more become what it was founded to be.
This crisis, of course, not only exists in education or among our young people. As I have noted before, it is prevalent within American Catholic circles as a whole. We can only hope, pray, and sacrifice that things change. It is my belief that they will change, but in God’s time.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Joseph, pray for us!
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!