Are Catholic Schools Only for Catholics?

Non-Catholics are increasingly choosing Catholic high schools to enroll their children.

Catholic high schools have for a long time been developing the minds and nurturing the spirits of both Catholic and non-Catholic students. Yet in classrooms, pews and bleachers, the number of non-Catholics joining their Catholic peers has steadily increased. Nationally, one-fifth of Catholic secondary school students are not Catholic, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Locally, that ratio is one-quarter of the student population.

What leads families of other faiths, or no faith, to bypass a free public school in favor of a Catholic one? For many parents, the answer lies in concern for the inner life of students – their focus on personal character – at Catholic schools.

Beyond the Academics

According to a report by the Friedman Foundation, “Families from different faiths choose Catholic schools for reasons beyond class size and beyond the academics. They are looking for something more, for a school that has their moral values and their beliefs. They want their children to be exposed to values in the classroom every day, not just at home.” Catholic high schools accommodate this desire.

Many parents also look at the school as part of their faith formation for their children – the fact that Catholic schools can teach ethics in the classroom and can use the term ‘God,’ rather than avoiding it.

Parents often want their children to receive a solid education and to avoid the pitfalls of public school. They want a school that builds moral character and leads to their child’s success as an upright adult citizen—an educational experience Catholic high schools can fulfill.

What does the Catholic Church Say?

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the proper function of Catholic schools “is to create a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity.” It further declares that “Catholicism should not be ‘imposed’ upon anyone. It’s not about indoctrination into a religion; it’s all about an encounter with Christ.

It is this Gospel spirit that cultivates the value-focused environment that appeals to non-Catholic parents. It has to do with an education that is Christ-centered and focused on the whole person. Even families who are not Catholic find this holistic approach attractive.

A Non-Catholic Family’s View of Cathedral

Tom and Nancy Balfanz are parents of four Cathedral students and happy to be Lutheran. “As parents we have great comfort in knowing that our children are in an educational environment that will reinforce much of what they learn in our church. With that said, there are some key differences. Being aware of these differences and why they exist is something that we have and will continue to make our children aware of.”

The differences can also enrich a family’s own Christian beliefs.

“The Catholic faith element has been a positive influence for our whole family. Questions sparked by theology-class topics often motivate us to go back and research what we believe,” Nancy said.

“My teachers and my friends respect my beliefs and never try to ‘convert’ me to Catholicism or ask me to do Catholic things like attend Confession.  They are respectful and mostly curious about my Lutheran belief,” said Carl Balfanz, Nancy’s youngest son and a senior at Cathedral. He continues, “It’s this respect for our differences that I feel will help me to connect with people later on in life who have different views.”

Nancy adds, “There is a little awkwardness at times, like when Catholic students go to confession or receive the Eucharist. But our kids are quick to say they’ve always felt welcomed and that friends and faculty are eager to offer practical guidance, such as when to stand and when to sit during Mass. None of our children have ever been singled-out or felt different than anyone else because of their faith.”

Non-Catholics at Cathedral

At Cathedral, non-Catholics account for 26 percent of the student body and are as equally treasured as our Catholic students. “While we must be apologetically Catholic, Catholic schools are not simply here for Catholics; we are here for everyone,” said Sandy Baldwin, Campus Minister.

“Our basic premise is that ‘all are welcome,’” said Sandy.

It is not the school’s mission to convert non-Catholics, but rather to evangelize in the sense of witnessing the Gospel through words and actions. For all students, it is an opportunity to awaken and deepen their own beliefs.

“When students are exposed to good role models, to faculty and students who are actively living the faith, their own faith and beliefs can be revitalized,” Nancy said.

Enriched Learning

Fr. Doug Liebsch, Cathedral’s Chaplain says, “In a faith-based environment, Catholics and non-Catholics are more free to authentically discuss than worry about being politically correct. I feel like in many ways the world doesn’t want to enter into these conversations of differences because it is easier not too. Yes it can be personal, but there is true dialogue that happens. Rather than saying we can’t discuss religion, we are able to enter into deeper conversations about God, the Church, the world, and what that means for our life.”

Father Doug continues, “Any questions about the faith, whether from a Catholic or non-Catholic, can help their peers evaluate their own convictions, and grow in deeper knowledge of the Truth,” Father Doug continues. “I personally have been impressed with many of the non-Catholic families we have at Cathedral. They are a witness to me as well as to their peers whenever they speak of their faith in Jesus Christ, and show His love to those they encounter!”

So…Should I Send My Child to Cathedral?

The best way to know if Cathedral is right for your family is to visit our school. This will give you an opportunity to meet our administrators and teachers, to get a “feel” for the place, and to experience the atmosphere and personality. You can sit in on a class or two to experience the instructional style and learn more about what extracurricular activities are offered. Chances are, you will get a gut feeling pretty quickly about whether Cathedral is a place for your child to thrive.