the st paul school closure and catholic education

st paul parish school in seattle is closing this coming june. with the various changes in our world and neighborhood plus the declining enrollment over the years, i am actually surprised that it has stayed opened until now.

st paul parish school has been an important part of people’s lives for decades. it has enhanced countless the communities of rainier beach and skyway in positive ways that only God knows!

the school will be missed by so many people mostly for nostalgic reasons. the vast majority of kids who went there no longer live in the neighborhood.

i have mine for sure: i learned to love math because of sister loretta; i survived rough and tumble playground sports and games with classmates; i was experienced drama and (square) dance; i learned that there are consequences to our actions– especially during the class trip to the capital and a visit to the olympia brewery. ( i’ll bet that the teachers/chaperones advocated for the latter!)

i still regularly get together with some of my classmates– my lifelong friends were found at st paul school! covid has curtailed these gatherings in 2020 but these lifelong relationships are a true gift in my life.

i have lived outside of washington for the vast majority of my adult life. so my involvement at st pauls over the years has been tangential. i have had a unique opportunity to see and help at catholic schools in various regions of the country. the approach to catholic education differs: seattle is different from los angeles, chicago andsan antonio. each parish school within each of these locales are different too. generalizations of catholic schools fall short of peoples’ lived experiences.

but there are some common factors that affect catholic education.

at a broad level, the continued secularization of our society diminishes the actual practice of the catholic faith. in our own unique way, second generation folks become more culturally catholic: been baptised but rarely go to mass/sacraments. we may know church teachings in our minds but our hearts are not with the church community. church can be seen as just another fraternal, good works organization much like the kiwanis or salvation army. catholic/faith values such as love, forgiveness and service/charity have been transformed into humanistic values such as respect, civility, tolerance. perhaps more than other faiths, cultural catholics can claim to be spiritual, not religious. it is enough and more culturally acceptable to be a good person. individualism and moral personalism negate the need to be part of a community that might claim authority in my life. why would i want to send my kid to catholic school if the catholic faith is not a priority in my own life? in the usa, secularism is in the air we breathe and it affects us all.

another commonality with catholic education is the high cost. one could buy a car for the price of tuition at a catholic school. st paul was actually a bargain when compared to what other catholic grade schools around the country cost. while the nuns of yesteryear were paid bargain (exploited) salaries, there is a pay scale for teachers/administrators now. these are still lower than what their public counterparts get paid. it costs a lot of money to run a school. when i served as pastor over ten years ago in prescott, az the school budget was about a million dollars a year– half of the parish budget. i am sure it is a lot more now.

as with all things in this world, financial considerations can dominate decision-making.

for some schools, higher tuition can be turned into a status symbol. it is the old marketing mentality: if it costs more, it must be better. inner city public schools can be challenged places and catholic schools are seen as a better alternative to educate one’s child. for some, sending one’s child to a catholic school is for the better education; for others, it can breed a type of elitism.

the origins of parish based catholic education were a response to the overt discrimination in public schools against the new immigrants such as the irish and italian. ironically, immigrants today who would love to send their children to their parish catholic school are prohibited because of the high cost. catholic education has turned from a church for poor immigrants to the elite wealthy. while there are exceptions in the form of scholarships as well as working class folks who greatly sacrifice to send their kids to the parish school, the general perception of recent immigrants is that catholic education is beyond their reach.

inner city catholic schools almost always financially struggle more than their suburban counterparts. this has been the case with st paul and a great part of its demise.

the sexual abuse scandals in the catholic church has negatively affected its moral standing in the usa. by extension, the reputation of catholic schools has become less desirable in the eyes of many. the sins of my brother priests has had hurtful consequences at many different levels. we will never know how many children were abused at catholic schools in the past. we will never know the tears of the parents whose sons/daughters were victims. the irony is that the courts and lawsuits will not be able to bring full healing of the harm– only God can bring peace to those who have been hurt.

on personal level, i have been called a child molester at a public court gathering on immigration. of course this ad hominem comment was made to undercut any public comment i was going to make. we will never fully know the extent that the sexual abuse scandals foment a type of catholic bigotry in society that affects all we do.

unfortunately, we do know that there were priests in the 1970s at st paul school that abused students. it pains me to even type these words. i personally went to st paul with boys who have been scarred forever by these sins. it is no surprise that most of these victims do not practice the catholic faith.

on the broader level society might ask, “with this type of reputation, why would one send their son/daughter to a catholic school?”

i will keep an eye on how the new chapter of st paul service to youth evolves. there are plans to change the space to be an early child developmental center. babies/infants from birth to five will be filling the old classrooms. this new focus can actually serve the community at large in a more effective way because of the great need to children to grow at this key time of their lives. i pray the Spirit guide those who will develop this new direction.

well, these are my musings on catholic education and the current state of st paul school in seattle. of course, i could be wrong in these reflections. what has been your experience?

i ask you to pray for the good of the parish community and the various leaders who will influence its future. COME HOLY SPIRIT– FILL THE HEARTS OF YOUR PEOPLE!


  1. Nora Mozingo says:

    I am so sorry to hear of another closure of a Catholic School! It saddens me because when a Catholic School closes, it affects not only the students but also a community as well as generations of families! My children attend Catholic School in San Antonio and their school too is struggling with enrollment due to the pandemic. We were a family who thought about pulling the kids because “why are we going to pay a tuition for remote learning?” After contemplating the pros/cons we knew the best decision was to keep them enrolled for the sake of consistency and hearing, seeing, and practicing the Word of God. (Prayers the community of St. Paul School)


    1. frarthurcmf says:

      thanks for your response nora
      you have a heart full of faith and love– we need more people in education like YOU!!


  2. DC says:

    The news makes me sad. The stories of your classmate makes me sad. Your witness is a light of hope and thank you for acknowledging the gift of the school and parish to so many.


    1. frarthurcmf says:

      thanks dc! i hope we have a chance to celebrate the good things that happened at st paul school. maybe you can visit if it is open in your schedule!


  3. Martha Mumsch says:

    St. Paul School is very special to me. I taught there for 10 years. The kids were great, the parents supportive. I made mistakes, especially as a new teacher thinking that the junior high level was where I should be. After 2 painful years, 5th grade became my home and we all were much happier. Thank you, Fr. Art, for being a wonderful priest and a good friend. You are a true blessing to every one and to the Catholic faith.
    Love, Mrs. Munsch

    Liked by 1 person

    1. frarthurcmf says:

      ms. munsch, thank so much for your words. i am glad that you felt that way about st pauls and us. i thought we were a rowdy bunch actually. i sometimes wondered how the teachers survived our hijinx at times! i am so glad we reconnected after so many years. God bless you always!


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