Chapter 8


The Catholic School System

       In Cleveland the Irish have in every instance been especially loyal to the Catholic school system. This support is something of a paradox. The school system here was clearly founded by German Catholics who firmly believed that should their children lose their German language, they well might lose their faith. As we have already observed, the Irish immigrants had no language to lose; they spoke English when they arrived here. They never had sermons in Gaelic; they never heard Gaelic spoken, at least publicly, nor did they ever seem to yearn for Gaelic as a part of their culture. Yet they considered themselves more American than the Germans, or for that matter any other non-English speaking immigrant group, simply because they did speak English when they arrived. The irony of this position seems particularly evident since these immigrant Famine Irish rarely could read or write the English language. The Germans and most other non-English speaking immigrants could read and write the language of their country of origin. But from the beginning the Irish made common cause with the Germans and others in the support of the parochial .....




school. Not one of the early Irish parishes in the Cleveland Diocese was without a parish school, subsidized out of parish collections and tuition free.

       Such was not always the case in New York and in many other Eastern Seaboard Dioceses. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, most of the bishops of the eastern dioceses wished their people to acculturate with what they thought was true Americanism as soon as possible. The ethnic pluralism of the Catholic population here made the bishops of Cleveland acutely aware of the need to preserve the language and customs of their people, which to a great degree were perpetuated in the schools. It would seem that Cleveland's bishops were anxious to see their people of all nationalities blend with the Americans, but those who followed Bishop Rappe also seem to have displayed a very high degree of sensitivity to the needs of the immigrants to find a home in their parishes which gave these immigrants at least some ties with their European heritage. They felt that acculturation would come gradually in time. Thus, they permitted the national parishes to flourish on their own energy and actively sought pastors for these parishes in Europe if none could be found here. In many cases the national parishes continue to function in Cleveland, serving congregations today which often find themselves comprised of people who are four generations in this country. Second, in response to these national parishes, the Irish or territorial parishes were anxious to offer the same school advantage to their own people's children. These schools assumed .....




an even greater significance as they began to accept the children of people who had once attended the non-English-speaking parish and school or when these people sought admission to the territorial (or Irish) parish when they moved to the suburbs. In the suburbs, ethnic peoples no longer found it feasible to return to their former parish for either worship or school.

       Moreover, the Irish or territorial parish schools were maintained by their people because they feared that faith might well be lost should their children attend the "Ciodless Public Schools," a phrase the Irish often heard from their pastors. Although there were some pastors and people who believed the public school system was a touchstone of American democracy. However, it is the first group that prevails even to this day. Only since 1964 have territorial parishes founded in Cleveland failed to build schools, but this recent development is traced, more likely than not, to the shortage of religious women to staff new schools, making them too expensive to begin, rather than to the idea that Catholics no longer support the parochial school. Indeed, Fr. Andrew Greeley's recent research indicates that Catholics want parochial schools as much as they ever did, but a fear on the part of the hierarchy exists that new schools are impossible to staff and maintain, so they are not built.