By Sister Carol Cimino
“We need more to be reminded than instructed.” – Samuel Johnson
It seems evident that Catholic schools are a viable, hopeful alternative to other kinds of schools in our community. But, over the years, it has become increasingly important to point out a significant fact about them: Catholic schools enroll a diverse population of rich, poor, black, white, Catholic, non-Catholic, smart and not-so-smart students.
Catholic schools’ founding purpose was to educate a generation of poor children of poor Catholic immigrants whose Catholic faith needed to be nurtured and strengthened in a diverse country whose values oftentimes ran counter to the beliefs of those Catholics. But they succeeded beyond expectation and, by the second generation, Catholics were accepted into the mainstream of American society.
On to the present: The Catholic elementary schools of the Diocese of Buffalo now enroll children of all backgrounds, a fact that seems to have escaped the view of a lot of people. One-fifth of those students are not Catholic, and in Buffalo Catholic schools, 70 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, a federal measure of poverty. Of our schools in the City of Buffalo, three of them enroll an increasing number of newly arrived immigrants, most of whom have come from Southeast Asia and West Africa. In fact, 35 percent of the enrollment at Our Lady of Black Rock School is made up of children who were not born in the United States.
For our students, success is tangible: 99 percent of our students graduate high school; 98 percent go on to higher education and they are more likely to graduate college after four years. This is not because their parents are affluent; it’s because the students have learned good study habits, discipline and respect for education.
This is not because their Catholic education was expensive, either. It costs Catholic elementary schools about $7,000 per year to provide this kind of an education. This is not because our teachers consider teaching a job; it’s because our teachers consider it a vocation, and an opportunity to pass on their own faith.
One very well-kept secret: Catholic elementary schools in Buffalo save the taxpayers in the city a whopping $40 million every year. Those parents pay between $3,000 and $5,000 in tuition, in addition to their school taxes.
Another secret: The student enrollment in Catholic schools is, in many instances, more diverse than some public schools. Because Catholic schools do not rely on a catchment area, i.e. a specific neighborhood, for their enrollment, children can come from all over the place – the city, the suburbs, affluent neighborhoods, more needy areas. Thus, students enjoy, daily, the richness of a mix of backgrounds, beliefs and traditions that provide a microcosm of American society.
Oh, and one more thing: Yes, our students say their Catholic prayers every day to a God who loves everyone, black, white, Catholic, non-Catholic, rich, poor – yes, everyone. And that’s no secret.
Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, Ed.D, is superintendent of Buffalo Catholic Schools.