Higher Education

       Here the role of the Irish becomes a good deal more difficult to trace. In the East, there can be little doubt that the Boston and the New York Irish solidly supported the Catholic high schools and colleges, especially those staffed by the Jesuits. Still it is obvious that schools like Boston College, Holy Cross and Fordham were patronized predominantly by the children of Irish immigrants seeking upward mobility, especially through the professions.

       In Cleveland, by the 1880's various forms of high schools began to evolve. At first they were two year extensions of the parochial grade school. As the public schools began to evolve through a series of compulsory education laws into four year programs, the Catholic schools followed suit. As early as 1876 the parish of Holy Name in Newburgh had a four year high school for boys and girls of the parish who wished to attend. But the first central high school for Catholic girls was founded in 1871 at the Ursuline Convent, which then stood on the south side of Euclid Avenue near East 6th Street. This was similar to the girls' academies that had sprung up in the eastern cities, modeled on the academies France. St. Ignatius was the first central high school for young men. It was opened in 1886 by the Jesuits in the same building the school occupies today at West 30th and Lorain Avenue.




       By the 1890's both Ursuline Academy and St. Ignatius High School had developed, first a two year and then a four year curriculum. At neither of these schools was the student body very large, often numbering no more than 100 pupils each, nor was the enrollment exclusively Irish in origin. But the majority of students at both institutions prior to 1910 was generally either Irish or German.

       On the whole it really was not until after World War II that Catholics in general and the Irish in particular began to attend colleges in any large numbers. We are aware of no statistics which would indicate what proportion of either Catholics generally or Irish specifically attended the secular colleges prior to 1910, or who attended Catholic colleges outside of Cleveland. We do know that a few young Irish men, destined to become priests, were attending the University of Notre Dame as early as 1849. But this fact only highlights the reality in the second half of the last century that the Catholic clergy were generally the best educated people in the parishes they served. To their credit, it must also be noted, it was the clergy who urged upon their people the need for higher education. In no ethnic group was this urging more apparent than in the Irish parishes. The Irish clergy became acutely aware that education was the key to upward mobility, and, as they encouraged the rising generation in their parishes at the turn of this century to enter colleges of any sort, they knew that they were at the same time breaking up the neighborhood enclave of their parishes .....




and limiting the lifetime of these parishes to perhaps no more than a generation and a half. Educated men did not return to the ghetto to live and the pastors knew it.

       Today, of course, the priest is rarely the only well educated person in his parish. Not only the Irish, but most other ethnic groups continue to place a high premium on a college education. Perhaps as high as 42% of the Catholic population of Cleveland is sending its young people to college. As a result the Irish, the Italians and the Poles are among the top six most upwardly mobile minorities in the country. Surely this trend will change the dynamics of parish life in the future.

       Finally, we must take notice of the Catholic college graduate school. This phenomenon appeared early in the Jesuit colleges and peaked in the late 1940's. Dental schools, medical schools and law schools emerged in the Jesuit colleges as early as the 1920's. Again, these schools were not populated totally by the Irish, but their enrollment was predominantly Irish until the middle 1950's. Today the question has rightly been asked: What is Catholic about a law, a dental or a medical education? The answer is not at all clear. But when these schools were established at a time early in this century, Catholics were not welcome in the graduate and professional schools which were part of private and usually sectarian colleges. At that same time, graduate and professional schools had not been fully accepted or welcomed in the state universities. Thus, the .....




Catholic college with a graduate professional school was the primary means and hope of upward mobility for most of the children of the immigrant Catholics and surely for the children of the Irish immigrants between the years 1890 and 1945. For one to lose sight of the role played by these Catholic colleges and universities is to miss altogether the critical role the Church played in the acculturation of the children of the immigrant Catholics. The loyalty these graduates felt, and to this day continue to feel, toward the schools that produced their careers demonstrates how important they were. One need only note the remarkable tradition of loyalty to be found in the alumni of the University of Notre Dame or of Georgetown, and the constantly recurring mystique of "a Jesuit education" to ascertain this fact. Still, it seems unlikely that any new Catholic colleges or universities will be founded in our lifetime; moreover, some of the older and smaller Catholic colleges have closed and will continue to close. They simply cannot compete financially with the inexpensive education now available to nearly everyone at the state universities and the community colleges. But while the demise of the small Catholic college may signal the end of one form of the immigrant period of Catholic Irish life, one wonders if the absence of these schools is not an unfortunate loss for the whole of higher education insofar as it takes away an important option for many young people.