Catholic schools were once fairly straightforward operations. Typically, they were attached to a parish, Catholic kids from the neighborhood attended for little or no tuition, the pastor was the ultimate decider, and an order of women religious whose members lived in a nearby convent ran the place and taught the classes.
The days of that iconic version of things are gone, said Heather Gossart, senior consultant for the National Catholic Educational Association. It faded in the wake of the 1960s exodus from religious life and the subsequent demographic shifts that emptied inner cities of white, middle-class Catholics.
What remains of the Catholic school "system" today is often out of the reach of many Catholics because of greatly increased costs occasioned by a lay teacher force that hasn't taken a vow of poverty. Gone as well are diocesan high schools where tuition was most likely either nonexistent or so low anyone who wanted could attend a Catholic school.
The new reality doesn't mean that Catholic schools have disappeared or that they don't serve low-income students. But what exists today is often far different from the systems of the past, and the new forms have attracted the attention of Catholic philanthropists interested in the future of Catholic education.