The Future of Catholic Schools – and the Priesthood

The Church began Jan. 28 its annual Catholic Schools Week, a celebration of Catholic education jointly sponsored by the USCCB and the National Catholic Educational Association.

For Catholic parishes with schools, Catholic School Week is a time for open houses and pulpit pitches to encourage parents to enroll their children. The annual effort is particularly important as Catholic schools, like many other institutional aspects of the Church, struggle with the changing demographics and geography of American Catholicism.

But what are the long-term trends facing Catholic education in the U.S.? How are they affecting the life of the Church?

The Pillar looks at the numbers.

While the consolidation or closing of Catholic parishes has made news in recent years, the decline in the number of Catholic schools is significantly greater. The number of Catholic parishes in the U.S. has declined by 10% from 1970 to 2022, according to data compiled by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) using the Official Catholic Directory.

In contrast, the number of Catholic elementary schools has declined by 49% during the same period, from 9,366 schools in 1970 to 4,751 in 2022. The number of Catholic high schools has declined 41% from 1,986 to 1,174.

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