The Virtues of Catholic Schools

What do Nobel Laureates Elfreide Jelinek, Doris Lessing, Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, Nadine Gordimer, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suukyi, Heads of State Maria Lourdes de Pintasilgo, Hanna Suchocka, Yingluck Shinawatra, Mary Robinson, Mary McAlesse, Portia Simpson Miller, Dilma Rousseff and  Jerry Brown, Condoleezza Rice, Phyllis Schlafly, Matt Leinert, Matt Barkley, Bernard Parks, Kenneth Hahn, Neil Clarke Warren, Ernesto Perez Ballardes and Jose Napoleon have in common?

They are all graduates of Catholic schools and colleges.

Catholic Schools around the world are based on specific guidelines. The emphasis on academics and self-discipline begins in preschool. The curriculum in Los Angeles, Chicago, Sao Paolo or Dublin is similar. It is in the tradition of a classical liberal arts education: demanding and comprehensive. English literature includes Plato, Chaucer, Homer, Byron, Keats, Faulkner, Melville, Milton, Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Twain.

A typical K-12 syllabus introduces mathematical concepts and logic in pre-school with a progression to calculus and philosophy in high school. To graduate four years each of math, English, science, foreign language and history are required.

A glance at the syllabus for the Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School [2] in Minneapolis or the schools in the Archdiocese of Denver will dispel any notion of comparability with the public school. At Cristo Rey, the 9th grade curriculum includes English composition, algebra I or geometry, physical science, religion, principles of math and language, physical education/health and 20 hours of community service. In 12th grade, it includes English IV, Pre-calculus or calculus, physics, religion IV, government/economics in addition to community service, college counseling and internship.

American literature and world literature, American history and world history, biology and chemistry and Spanish I and II are included in 10th and 11th grade. B is an adequate grade. C is sub-standard. Any F must be repeated and passed. There are no social promotions.

We will review the data and discuss the reasons Catholic schools provide such a superb education. The hope is that those factors can be incorporated into the public school system and improve the students’ performance.

The development and the content of the curriculum, salaries and annual teacher performance reviews are the purview of the school superintendent, principal and faculty. As Cai Yuanpei, the founder of China’s modern education system counseled at the turn of the 20th century, education must be above politics. The NEA and CTA teachers unions have no foothold in the Catholic schools.

The main purpose of education is to inform and enlighten young minds, not to become the vehicle of liberal politics. Education scholars William Damon, Cornelius Riordan and Leonard Sax report that topics such as multiculturalism, gender politics and revisionist history account for 50% of the public school curriculum. No such indoctrination has a place in Catholic school classrooms. As an added bonus, tuition is often considerably less than that for public or private schools.

The following facts and statistics taken from the literature should persuade even inveterate sceptics. Sources are cited in the footnotes. 94% of Catholic school graduates in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee [3] pursue higher education. In the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, 99% of students graduate within four years; 98% go on to college. More than 63% of these students are minorities [4].

Latino and African American students who attend Catholic schools are more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to graduate from college than their public school peers.  More than 80% of students in the Archdiocese of Denver [5] are minorities. 97% graduate from high school.

Compared with their public-school counterparts, more than twice as many minority Catholic-school graduates from urban areas finish college: 27 percent of the minority Catholic-school graduates [6] finish college, while only 11 percent of minority public-school graduates receive their degrees.

Social class and status do not handicap a minority student’s academic performance in Catholic school. Multiply disadvantaged kids benefit most from Catholic schools. The poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains compared to public school peers. A number of the Nobel Laureates and world heads of state come from poor, single parent or minority families [7].

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Heads of State Dame Perlette Louisy of St. Lucia, Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica,  Michaelle Jean of Canada, Dame Jennifer Smith of Bermuda and Nobel Laureates Toni Morrison and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf are all Black women who were raised in abject poverty, most in dysfunctional or single-parent homes who were educated in Catholic schools and colleges.

We do not advocate replacement of public schools by Catholic Schools but we strongly recommend their serious consideration by Catholic and non-Catholic parents alike. Non-Catholics now represent 25-33 percent of the student body in many large urban Archdioceses. The benefits from enrollment in all-girls Catholic schools and colleges have been compellingly documented in the previous paragraph [8].

The deliberate focus on and normalization of sexual promiscuity, abortion and illegitimacy in public schools is directly correlated with poor achievement and excessive dropouts. The virtue of catholic schools is its deliberate focus on academics, athletics and the traditional virtues such as morality, responsibility, continence and competition. Athletics is an important component of the curriculum. The list of professional athletes in basketball and baseball who are graduates of Catholic high schools and colleges is impressive. The three Heisman Trophy winners from Mater Dei High School in Corona del Mar and seven from Notre Dame, and the numbers of professional athletes who are graduates of Catholic schools is a Who’s Who of the NFL., NBA and Major League

The Catholic school curriculum is parochial. It is narrowly restricted to the rigorous classical model of the Three R’s, not gender politics, multiculturalism, social and sexual indoctrination and revisionist politics. It is the antithesis of the anti-intellectual, anti-American politicized curriculum in many of America’s public schools, especially in California.

Coupled with strong parental commitment, structure and discipline, this is the virtue of Catholic schools and the reason for their great success. It is the model that has existed in the United States since its founding (Harvard, Yale and Princeton were founded as Christian schools) and responsible for the enviable success of its education system.

When graduates from Catholic Schools can become Nobel Laureates, presidents and prime ministers and valedictorians at Harvard College, the results speak for themselves. Judge for yourself.

R. Claire Friend, MD, is the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.


Graduates of Catholic Schools

All-girls Catholic schools and colleges – Nobel Laureates
Nadine Gordimer
Wislawa Szymborska
Sigrid Undset
Selma Lagerlof
Elfreide Jelinek
Doris Lessing
Jane Addams
Emily Greene Balch
Leymah Gwoobee
Wangari Maatai
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Elizabeth Blackburn
Mairead Corrigan
Tawakkol Karman
Aung San Suukyi
Betty Williams

All-girls Catholic schools and colleges – Heads of State
Maria Lourdes de Pintasilgo (Portugal)
Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)
Dr. Dame Hilda Louisa Bynoe (Grenada)
Michaelle Jean (Canada)
Hanna Suchocka (Poland)
Dame Pearlette Louisy (St. Lucia)
Dame Eugenia Charles (Dominica)
Yingluck Shinawatra (Taiwan)
Louise Agueta Lake-Tack (Antigua-Barbados)
Mary Robinson (Ireland)
Mary McAlesse (Ireland)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)
Paula Cox (Bermuda)
Dame Jennifer Smith (Bermuda)
Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica)
Joyce Banda (Malawi)
Dame Elmira Minta Gordon (Belize)
Maria Philomena Libera-Peter (Dutch Antilles)
Luisa Diaz Diogo (Mozambique)

Graduates of Pepperdine University:
Neil Clark Warren
James Hahn
Bernard Parks
Michelle Steel
Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper

Graduates of University of San Diego:
Maj. Gen. Robert Bohn, USMC
Mike Fetters
Steven Altman
Kenneth C. Koo
Carlos Bustamente, Mayor Tijuana

Graduates of Notre Dame
Peter King
Bruce Babbitt
Miguel Diaz
Ernesto Perez Ballardes (President of Panama)
Jose Napoleon Duarte (President of El Salvador)
Judge Andrew Napolitano
Condoleezza Rice
Regis Philbin

Graduates of Mater Dei High School
Matt Barkley
Matt Leinert
John Huarte
Colt Brennan
Jason Forcier
Jamal Sampson
LeRon Ellis








9 replies
  1. Greg Lehman says:

    Pepperdine University is NOT a Catholic University. Christian, yes, but not Catholic.

    From the Pepperdine University website []:
    “Pepperdine University is religiously affiliated with Churches of Christ.”

  2. ChillaKilla says:

    I went to Catholic schools from KG to Prep. in Mexico and had an invaluable experience, which helped me be far ahead of my peers in the course of my primary school education when I was brought to the US for a short stint . At the time, I had just finished 5th grade back in the old country and landed in the 6th grade of a public school in CA. What a shock!!! The waste of materials, the lack of civility, the meek acceptance by faculty and staff of low cultural mores and indiscipline, all sacrificed on the altar of ‘multi-culturalism’!

    What I found there was a class deeply divided by ethnicity, comprehension level and desire for achievement. There were kids in the 6th grade who could not even read, let alone be proficient in math or in any of the other subjects that were taught at the same grade level in the Mex Catholic school curriculum.

    Since I knew little English when I arrived, the 6th grade teacher automatically assumed I was ‘slow’ and upon transferring to Jr. High school I was put in a class composed of ghetto hoodlums, problem kids and slackers, until one day the teacher in charge asked me to read a paragraph in class. By then I might not have known fluent English, but I certainly could run rings around any of my classmates in reading proficiency. Apparently that, and the appreciation of the kind teacher was all it took to get me out. I was sent to the office with a recommendation for transfer to regular classes, in which I immediately excelled.

    I returned to Mexico after that one year in Jr. High, and was again enrolled in a Catholic school, in the equivalent of Jr. and High School, where in addition to the curriculum you describe above, we were taught Greek and Latin roots, World Lit. and Classical music education.

    Back again in the US I tried to revalidate my Mexico studies, unfortunately and quite offhand they would not even recognize them as being on a par with a US High School education! I was therefore forced to enroll in a Jr. College to obtain a GED diploma, something that for various reasons, having nothing to do with deficiency in my previous education, took me two years.

    From there I went to USC where I discovered that my Catholic school education, especially my knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, had me well ahead of my classmates in language comprehension and culture.

    I finally graduated with academic honors and a Phi Beta Kappa key. Credit goes totally to the years I spent in Catholic school!

    Unfortunately CA and US education standards at this point are hopelessly mired, impaired and hindered by the dominance of the nefarious ‘teachers unions’ and their thuggish tactics. It cannot be possible, however that this country might resign itself and meekly accept the degradation of its education and cultural standards, and the blackmail imposed upon the curricula by the unions. Capitulation to these thugs is visibly amounting to educational suicide, and third world status!

  3. R. Claire Friend says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful, very personal narrative. You’ve made our case far more eloquently than we ever could. Let us hope the readers hear your powerful words.

  4. Chuck O says:

    If you are looking for better schools and better county government, consider Douglas County, Colorado. Not only do we have good Catholic Schools, but our school board has thrown out the teacher’s union. Doing so has allowed the school district to proceed with improvements that were previously held back by the union. The union isn’t happy because they lost $800,000 a year in dues. The county has no debt and all county employees are on a 401k type retirement program. An all Republican county government is what got our county to this point. Yes, 100% of the School Board members are conservative (think Republican) and every elected official in the county is a Republican. Our local Republicans preach and practice smaller government.

  5. A Former Native Californian says:

    I was born and raised in west Contra Costa. My parents (with my much older sister) recognized that the local school system was essentially ineffective. (This was long before unions had any particular impact on the school system.) While my parents made serious efforts to help my sister by enrolling her at Anna Head (Berkeley) and other tutors, etc., my sister (who today would probably have been diagnosed with “learning disabilities” and/or ADHD) managed to graduate from Richmond High … but was functionally illiterate.

    I was fortunate to have been accepted into a Lutheran run school (a last-minute opening occurred days before I was to start in elementary school). The school had roughly 100 students, 8 grades, three classrooms and three teachers. I attended that school for 8 years, starting 9th grade at a public high school. I note that the 10 students in my graduating 8th grade class all scored “12.9” on the Stanford-Binet Achievement Test — which indicates achievement equivalent to a high school education. The public high school presented a few challenges, but was mostly a piece of cake. I graduated in the upper 10% of the class.

    I note that the Lutheran school had students from every income and social class, though most were children of the sponsoring church members. With three classrooms, the student body was split up with grades 1-2 in one room; grades 3-5 in another, and grades 6-8 in the third. Classrooms had between 30 and 40 students. There was some turnover, where some families moved away (causing a slow shrinkage in the student count) and rarely, a new student would enter at one of the higher grade levels (indeed, friends of my parents entered their children in the 3rd and 5th grades while I was there).

    The teachers would teach the whole classroom in some subjects (including the first 1/2 hour of the day with a religion class), while at other times they make assignments for in-classroom work for the other students while specific instruction was done with one grade level. “Fast” students could easily work on some subjects with the higher level classes. If classroom work was insufficient to keep a student busy (while focus was on another class), we had to maintain proper classroom decorum — and were allowed to read/study from the encyclopedia and other reference works kept in the back of the classroom. (I read the “Book of Knowledge” in its entirety (20 volumes or so) several times during my years at the school.)

    I give this explanation about the school I attended, simply to illustrate that many of the Teacher’s Union’s demands (claimed to improve schools) are not relevant. My school featured large class sizes. Multiple grades in each room. Somewhat limited resources (e.g. learning aids such as projectors and other such equipment was minimal and this was long before computers had reached classrooms). Yet, the school was still able to provide an excellent education for all its students.

    The “Progressive” education that engulfed the government-run schools were based on the example of the German school system from the late 19th Century. One of the major goals was to indoctrinate students to become “good citizens” (as defined by the ruling powers). The problem today is that schools generally do not focus on education on practicalities but do spend much time on indoctrinations, particularly of left-leaning principles. The Government should not be trusted with our children’s education. Schools should all be privatized. The education system should be entirely de-regulated. If public funding is necessary, then some sort of tax credit system should be established to finance education in formal schools or to assist parents who wish to home-school their children.

    PS. Though we are native Californians, my wife and I escaped from California in 2012.

  6. Tom Horn says:

    I attend Catholic Schools through high school. As I look back one of the great benefits I see, especially for grammar school is this. The Sister of Charity never had anything to do more important the tending to the children in the care. If extra instruction was needed they were available and happy to stay until the task was complete. It didn’t matter how long or how many days it took. When the regular school day ended they were in no hurry to get home to a family or other endeavor. For some of us that’s when the real learning began.
    I’m thankful for their dedication and persistence.

  7. Kathy says:

    I love your analysis. My parents would have loved reading this essay. They were so hurt anytime one of their 7 children disparaged Catholic schools. They sacrificed greatly to put the five eldest in Catholic schools. I received an excellent education. I thank my parents and very hard working teachers. The nuns, priests and lay instructors were all paid considerably less than their public school union counterparts.
    I taught math in a Catholic high school for 2 years. I was an excellent teacher and demanded as much from my students as the nuns had demanded from me. I had good role models.
    I had a great Catholic school education from first grade through college. My experience teaching in a Catholic school for 2 years was equally rewarding.
    Thank you for a wonderful and well-deserved tribute.

  8. R. Claire Friend, MD says:

    I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying it is to read all of your replies. My hope is that we have loud enough voices to force the government to allow parents to make the choice of Catholic, charter or public education for their children. It’s our money, after all.
    My heartfelt thanks for your wonderful comments.

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