By Robert E. Crotty
The recent news that two Catholic schools in Buffalo, Ambrose and Trinity, will close in June coincides with the announcement of more than 20 school closures downstate. This trend has occurred in spite of parental demand and academic success. I am a product of St. Thomas Aquinas School in South Buffalo. When it closed well after I graduated, I felt the loss of an institution that was critical to me in my most formative years. This sense of loss lingers.
The economic model of my day has changed and many families now cannot afford the relatively modest expense of a Catholic education. The closing of so many Catholic parochial schools, then, acutely affects the poor, but also working- and middle-class families.
The importance of Catholic schools, however, goes beyond Catholicism’s commitment to the poor. Catholic schools teach religious values and intellectual traditions that secular schools cannot teach. Catholic values have been a unifying and stabilizing force in our culture.
Catholic teaching is a comprehensive body of learning, a broad and deep intellectual tradition that has drawn on the Greek, Roman and natural law philosophies, Judaism and the Old Testament. It is more than 2,000 years old and has outlasted multiple forms of governmental, political and academic theories. The Catholic tradition has, at its core, the values and truths that mankind has aspired to over the millennia.
Even were I not a believer in the Catholic intellectual tradition, I would still argue that this body of learning should be taught as a necessary alternative to whatever is the temporary reigning popular narrative, the new idea or the latest academic niche.
Catholic schools have produced graduates who have met their social responsibilities in every area of society. They have made a positive difference by bringing their Catholic values into our culture, thus helping to form it and to give it an enduring substance. When Catholic schools close, we all lose something valuable, something that has been beneficial to all of us whether one is Catholic or not, believer or not.
We need to find a way to preserve Catholic schools. State policy makers should look closely at legislation supported by Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone and many Western New York legislators to create a greater incentive for donations to fund scholarships for children to attend Catholic and other private schools by providing a tax credit, as opposed to a tax deduction. This legislation also would encourage more private support of public schools. Other states have enacted similar legislation and have reaped very positive benefits for all educational institutions.
Robert E. Crotty, a graduate of Catholic schools in Buffalo, is a partner with Kelley Drye & Warren LLP in New York City and is president of the Guild of Catholic Lawyers of the Archdiocese of New York.