st paul school closing and catholic educational challenges

this is 5/8ths of the graduating class of 2021 at st paul school in seattle. all eight grads were boys. most will go to kennedy high– my alma mater; a couple to o’dea. this is the last graduation for st paul school– it has closed.

the final graduation mass was a bit sad. how many times over the decades did students gather in that sanctuary to celebrate God’s love? i went to st paul from fifth to eighth grades. i would not be the person i am today with this wonderful school. it was a place that we experienced sin, grace and redemption: in small and big ways.

i was talking with mr roni after mass near the old first grade classroom. we figured out that because of his 12 kids– who all attended– that the ronis had kids at st paul– and subsequently kennedy high– for 30 consecutive years! stunning!! st paul school literally had decades of memories for their family. they could write a captivating book with all of those experiences.

i also spoke with one of the long time teachers who had been at st paul for over 30 years. i cannot imagine how much of her heart was given to the hundreds of students that she had encountered over the years. of course she was sad.

but st paul school had been struggling for many years. changes in the neighborhood, the practice of the faith and the rising costs of catholic education all were contributing factors in this latest chapter of the school’s life. in various discussions with the pastor in 90s– joe tyson– i thought that there would have been a restructuring of the school back then. the cluster-model of parishes on seattle’s southend where st george and st edward also had schools had them three three competing with one another for students. it was difficult for each of the churches to finance three schools that were jsut a few miles from one another.

i have been critical of catholic education that caters to the wealthy only. the impression by the general society is that private education is costly and families must have great financial resources to send their kids to catholic schools– especially the high school level. it does not always hold true as many working class immigrant families will sacrifice to send their kids to catholic school. to have a consistency between the faith that is celebrated on sunday and what the children learn in school is a great value for many. parochial education for catholics began with anti-immigrant practices that excluded children from public education.

in a lot of places today, parents choose catholic school for their kids in order to escape the public schools which may be sub-par and have many challenges outside of just teaching in the classrooms. various parents prefer the strict discipline that is part of catholic schools’ reputation.

catholic educators are right to look at new ways of educating our young people in the 21st century. we really cannot just continue with extending the old school ways of doing things when our catholic communities and neighborhoods have greatly changed. the jesuits’ nativity and cristo rey models for middle and high schools show great promise and have been thus far successful.

one of the societal changes in the usa are the growing latino populations in so many parts of the country. spanish speaking immigrants are have children in greater numbers but catholic tuition is prohibitive. they would love to send their kids to a catholic school.

when i was pastor at sacred heart parish in prescott az, there was a desire by some key administrators to have the school operate independently from the parish. i held firm that as important as catholic education is, the school is a ministry of the parish. part of the mission of the parish is to teach under the umbrella of our faith. also, there was a widespread desire that the school keeps its reputation as an elite school. standing above other schools in prescott was the way to increase enrollment. when i brought up various best practices to integrate our spanish speaking parishioners into the school, there was big time push back from the school board. despite an openness from the principal, it was clear that the board did not want to open the doors to the spanish speaking– these changes might interfere with tuition rates as well as give the impression that we were not “elite.”

there are no easy answers but we can acknowledge the challenges. one thing is certain: we cannot keep doing things as in the past. we must structurally change the way catholic education is done. and it must be a ministry of the faith. but change is difficult for many for various reasons so we will see things change incrementally.

the Spirit will urge us on and will lead and guide us. but will we listen? or will more inner city catholic schools like st pauls have to be closed?

hope abounds though! the classrooms of st pauls will be transformed into a pre-school, early childhood developmental center. they are currently accepting registrations for three-five year old children. i truly believe that his new chapter for st pauls education can help so many people in south seattle. education at st paul is starting anew and this preschool focus shows promise.


  1. DC says:

    I think the decision you made in Prescott was right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. frarthurcmf says:

      thanks for the vote of confidence! very few people there agreed with it. if we tried it at st pauls several years ago, it could still be open. seattle is not prescott, az


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