A Remarkable Legacy: The Story of the Secondary Schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Article excerpt

A Remarkable Legacy: The Story of the Secondary Schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. By Francis J. Weber. (Mission Hills, California: Saint Francis Historical Society. 2001. Pp. xx, 154.)

This is an informative study of the foundation and development of the individual secondary schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The subject has particular significance because Los Angeles was at the forefront of Catholic school education efforts for many decades as a result of several factors. Of particular significance among them was the early leadership provided by Bishop Thomas J. Conaty beginning in 1903. In his previous position of national prominence as rector of the Catholic University of America he had ardently promoted parochial schools. Not surprisingly, early in his episcopate Conaty organized a board of education to oversee programs from kindergarten through college throughout the 80,000 square-mile Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. His successor, Archbishop John J. Cantwell, continued the emphasis, favoring the establishment of central high schools and increased teacher training. He even advanced the idea of federal supervision of education.

Upon his arrival in 1948, Cantwell's successor, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, devoted even greater effort to increasing the number of private, parochial, and archdiocesan high schools by means of the most extensive fund raising campaign in the country. Twenty-four high schools were constructed between 1949 and 1959. As a result of southern California's postwar population growth efforts were redoubled by the end of the decade. No other diocese expended more money and energy on education. The effort earned Cardinal McIntyre a national reputation as a "builder of schools."

School construction came to an abrupt end in 1965, however. Although the Catholic population in the archdiocese increased by 136% after the mid-1960's, no additional secondary schools were opened, none was planned, and by 2001, twenty-two had been closed. The author offers several explanations for the change including vastly increased costs of construction, maintenance, and staffing. Demographic shifts within residential communities, the decline in religious vocations, and the shifting emphasis of post-Vatican II ministries which resulted in alternative catechetical education have also contributed to the diminished emphasis upon religious schools.

In his study Weber groups schools into categories of private, parochial, and archdiocesan institutions including preparatory seminaries and special service institutions. Schools which have been closed constitute the final category. The profiles vary in content. In some there are references to alumni, parents' groups, libraries, awards, and outreach programs. In some cases the religious order in charge is identified. …