Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland this afternoon and was greeted by President and Mrs Obama, Vice President and Mrs Biden, and other dignitaries.
The pope, a Jesuit and a former high school teacher in his native Argentina, probably won’t have much to say about Catholic schools in the US, which have experienced a decline in enrollment in the last decade. He’s expected to visit Our Lady Queen of Angels, a Catholic elementary and middle school in East Harlem, N.Y., on Friday, but other than that, his visit and official appearances—outside of several masses—are widely expected to focus on climate change, poverty around the world, and military or other armed conflicts.
Captialism, though, may be one reason Catholic schools are seeing a decline in enrollment. Charter school operators, hungry for taxpayer dollars, offer “free” education in urban centers, where Catholic schools, like Our Lady Queen of Angels, once provided a value-laden alternative to low-quality, under-funded public schools. Tuition at a Catholic school or no tuition at a charter school. Hmm. What’s a poor parent to do?
It’s expected that about 250 schoolkids will meet the pope outside the school on East 112th Street, and then he’ll go in and sit with two dozen fourth graders and their principal, his schedule shows.
Don’t expect him to say anything about the Common Core, though. Catholic schools are split on the use of the new learning standards and staying afloat amid declining enrollment is probably a bigger fish to fry than what the math or reading curriculum is teaching kids. Whatever learning standards are used, though, it seems money—and not the quality of education—is what’s driving the masses away from Catholic schools, which have lost about 20 percent of their students and closed more than 1,500 schools in the last 10 years.
“From our point of view, the big picture is Catholic and non-Catholic business leaders supporting these schools,” the New York Post quoted Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, as saying. “The fact that these very busy people are donating time and money to Catholic schools, regardless of their personal faith, speaks volumes about the first-rate education the students are receiving.”
Other than some disruptions to bus service and some adjustment to the dropping off and picking up routines, especially in Washington, though, students have been looking forward to the pope’s visit for a while. It is widely believed that his six days in America will reinforce the love Americans of all religious traditions and political stripes have for him.