Editorial | Catholic education from 1818 to now: Building on strong foundation brings rewards

The history of formal Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis dates to 1818. Bishop Louis DuBourg of the Louisiana Territory established a seminary in Perryville and the first Catholic school in St. Louis. He invited the Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Vincentians and the Jesuits to become a part of this community.

Among those who came were St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Father Joseph Rosati, and Father Pierre DeSmet, combining their missionary work with education. It would be another 20 years before public education was established, and not until 1853 when the first public high school west of the Mississippi opened in St. Louis.

As the first St. Louis bishop, Bishop Rosati continued to build the foundation of Catholic education. At his request, the Jesuits took over St. Louis College, which received a university charter in 1832. Sisters of St. Joseph came from France in 1837. They began their mission of teaching deaf children and opened a school for girls in Carondelet. Sisters of the Visitation established an academy in 1844. Five years later, Christian Brothers arrived to teach in elementary, secondary and college schools. School Sisters of Notre Dame opened a number of parish schools, especially in the growing German-American communities.

Despite a history of educating African-American children, Catholic schools of St. Louis were racially segregated. In 1947, newly-appointed Archbishop Joseph Ritter integrated the more than 200 elementary and secondary schools of the archdiocese — seven years before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education ended legal segregation in public schools.

Today, approximately 24,000 students are enrolled in 113 elementary schools and about 11,700 students attend 27 Catholic high schools. The 40th largest diocese in the country, St. Louis has the eighth most students in Catholic elementary and high schools. Another 16,000 are enrolled in PSR.

The challenges continue. Challenges of affordability, technology, secular values and more. Yet the quality of education remains, with superb faith formation and superior academics.

Planning is underway for the 2017 National Catholic Education Association Convention and Expo in St. Louis on April 18-20. It's a time for Catholic educators to celebrate achievements, acquire new knowledge and renew their spirit. The editors of Momentum, the magazine of the NCEA, recently wrote that "at the heart of Catholic school education, dedicated teachers, mission-driven principals and presidents, visionary pastors and superintendents and supportive boards and institutions of higher learning are imparting the good news of Jesus' merciful love and touching the hearts and minds of young people in their care."

With the new school year well on its way, it's time to reflect on how far we've come since 1818 and celebrate all we are doing in Catholic education. The struggle to support education wasn't easy at the beginning and isn't easy now, but the rewards are great — well-rounded graduates of our schools grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

No votes yet