OPINION

Opinion: Catholic education is fighting for survival and biggest losers are Hispanics

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10:  Members of the Catholic clergy arrive for the funeral for Cardinal Edward M. Egan at St. Patrick's Cathedral on March 10, 2015 in New York City. New York's eighth archbishop, who retired from his post in 2009, will be buried in the church following his funeral Mass later in the day. Cardinal Egan, who served as the Archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009, died on March 5 at the age of 82.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Members of the Catholic clergy arrive for the funeral for Cardinal Edward M. Egan at St. Patrick's Cathedral on March 10, 2015 in New York City. New York's eighth archbishop, who retired from his post in 2009, will be buried in the church following his funeral Mass later in the day. Cardinal Egan, who served as the Archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009, died on March 5 at the age of 82. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

The saga in San Francisco continues, with the self-appointed enforcers of the New Intolerance attacking Archbishop Cordileone for trying to keep the high schools in his archdiocese Catholic in more than name. They insist that the Church change its doctrines relating to marriage and the family, and this insistence comes with thinly veiled threats to close Church schools by taking away their tax exempt status. Catholic education is fighting for survival and if this battle is lost, among the biggest losers will be Hispanics.

The Church truly loves and serves Latinos in the U.S. It’s a natural mission for the institution, because she doesn’t see the world in terms of borders, races and nationalities.

- Dr. Grazie Pozo Chistie

My experiences growing up were like the experiences of many Latinos. Hear our stories and you hear a common thread:  Disruption, upheaval, a little desperation from time to time, and a lot of hard work toward some eventual stability and peace. 

I was the daughter of recently exiled Cubans in South Florida, and sent to an English-speaking Catholic preschool at 3. My mother had to explain to the teacher how we say “bathroom” in Spanish. Then, to Mexico to start Kindergarten, in a solemn Old World convent school, where we could see the cloistered nuns through the railings, at their prayers. My friends called me “la gringa.” 

Back to the U.S. years later, no English again, but helped to adjust in a sweet parochial school in Miami, where all the students were the children of exiles. Then up to the Midwest, to a little town where no one had ever met a Hispanic. We were so exotic it was uncomfortable. Again, sent to a parochial school where the routines were familiar and comforting, and the teachers loving and accepting.

Disruption and upheaval are not easy, especially for children. But running through it all, like a tow rope up a ski mountain, was the Church and the education it offered us. It was consistently rigorous, welcoming, universal, deeply recognizable and ours — no matter the language, style, or architecture. It was community and family, guiding us and keeping us grounded. 

It was also a ladder up from poverty and a safe haven from the inferior public schools of our poor neighborhoods, where learning was much harder in chaotic environments. My siblings and I could attend, because it was also cheap, expressly designed to serve the children of the poor and middle class.

Likewise, today, in neighborhoods all over the country, minority children, especially Hispanic, are receiving Catholic private education at a fraction of the cost of a public school education. In some parts of the country, more than 30 percent of enrolled students are Latino. For them, these schools are not only cost effective, they also succeed in integrating them into the wider culture. 

Sol Stern wrote in City Journal:  “Unlike the public schools, which have trivialized their curriculum and abandoned their standards in the name of multiculturalism, Catholic educators have remained committed to the ideal that minority children can share in, and master, our civilization’s intellectual and spiritual heritage. Indeed, Catholic schools are among the last bastions in American education of the idea of a common civic culture."

Of course, the Church offers much more than an excellent civic education. For many people like us, but whose situations are more dire, the Church does much more. It dispenses Charity, and I purposely use the capital. Because I mean Charity as in sacrificial love. Legions of caring volunteers run English classes, employment centers, aid facilities for mothers in crisis pregnancies, food banks for the very poor, and legal assistance centers. The list is endless. No one has been more indefatigable in its aid and defense of immigrants than the Church.

The Church truly loves and serves Latinos in the U.S. It’s a natural mission for the institution, because she doesn’t see the world in terms of borders, races and nationalities. There is one category of person for the Church: the human person. And the more vulnerable and defenseless, the faster she rushes to their rescue. 

Yet everywhere we look these days, there are movements, powerful ones, seeking to force the Church out of her mission of education and assistance. The ACLU wants the Church out of helping Latinos at the border; Gay rights activists want the Church out of the foster and adoption business; President Obama’s administration persists in its aggression toward the Little Sisters of the Poor. His own solicitor general told the Supreme Court that the tax exempt status of Catholic and other religious institutions could be taken away by the IRS if they persist in upholding their teachings on marriage.

Let’s face it. Those being helped, welcomed, and cared for with tenderness, are in large proportion Latino. Those who are waging war on the Church treat Latinos-in-need as mere collateral damage. The people who are arrayed in bitterness and contempt against Catholic education in San Francisco, are arrayed against the education and assistance of immigrants. It’s that simple.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie specializes in radiology in the Miami area and serves on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.

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