Archbishop Chaput
Archbishop Chaput Reuters

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia made a stunning (but widely expected) decision on Friday to close down 49 Catholic high schools and elementary schools in response to plunging enrollments.

According to Philadelphia media, 28 percent of the archdiocese's 156 elementary schools and 24 percent of its 17 high schools will shut down. The closings will also displace about 1,700 teachers.

The measures are expected to save the archdiocese as much as $10-million annually.

We cannot sustain unsustainable schools,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said at a press conference.

The archdiocese said that deficits are widening – at an annual average of $319,162, a 25 percent jump since 2001.

Over the past ten years, enrollment in the Archdiocese had plummeted by 38 percent in its elementary schools and by 34 percent in high schools. As recently as a decade ago, the system boasted 214 elementary and 22 high schools.

But this reflects a broader national trend.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011, the total number of Catholic schools in the U.S. declined from 8,146 to 6,980 – a 14.3 percent decline. Over the same period of time, total enrollment in Catholic schools fell from about 2.65-million to 2.07-million, a nearly 22 percent drop.

Moreover the average tuition per pupil is $3.383 for elementary schools and a daunting $8,787 for high schools.

NCEA noted that U. S. Catholic school enrollment reached its zenith in the early 1960s when the system had more than 5.2 million students in almost 13,000 schools across the country.

“The 1970s and 1980s saw a steep decline in both the number of schools and students,” the group said. “By 1990, there were approximately 2.5 million students in 8,719 schools.”

Thus, the schools have no choice but to drastically restructure.

In fact, Chaput also told local media that he was dissuaded by his priests’ council from postponing the massive closings.

So I took the question to the priests' council, and I asked them if we should postpone it for a year, Chaput told reporters.
They told me, 'Don't postpone. We have to do this now.' So I'm taking the advice of the priests' council.

Chaput expressed his sadness over teachers who would lose their jobs.

My heart goes out in a special way to the teachers. To the parents, too, he said, but for teachers, the incomes for their families is at stake. We want to do all we can to find them a place [in the system] If not, we'll help them adjust.