For years, Catholic schools across the country have been struggling with declining enrollment.
From the peak in the 1960s at 5.2 million students in Catholic schools, about 1.9 million now attend. But the National Catholic Educational Association, or NCEA, maintains that a Catholic education is as important in today’s world as it was in the 1960s.
“Catholic education addresses the whole person,” said NCEA President Brother Robert Bimonte. “We’re not only a school that’s teaching facts, but we’re forming the whole person: body, mind and spirit.”
This week nearly 6,000 people are meeting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
“We have Catholic educators from elementary and secondary schools, universities, seminaries, diocesan offices, parish catechetical programs all coming together for an amazing professional development opportunity,” Bimonte said.
This year marks the 110th anniversary of the NCEA, and though smaller groups have met in Pittsburgh in the past, this is the first time the largest private-education association gathering has come to the city. The week will include more than 300 development sessions, daily liturgy, and an exhibition hall.
The NCEA reports that between the 2004 and 2014 school years 1,856 Catholic schools were reported closed or consolidated across the U.S. and enrollment has declined by 22.7 percent. Still, Bimonte said there are some areas where Catholic schools are thriving.
“In the South and in the West we’re opening schools,” he said. “We opened 43 new schools just this last year, many of our schools have waiting lists. Catholic education is alive and well, there’s no question about that.”
But in other parts of the country there are too many buildings and not enough students to fill them. Bimonte said such situations are handled by each individual diocese as they deem appropriate.
Speakers at this year’s conference include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and author of "The Teaching of Christ" and "The Catholic Way." The conference runs through Thursday.