Closing Chapters: Urban Change, Religious Reform, and the Decline of Youngstown's Catholic Elementary Schools, 1960-2006

By Walch, Timothy | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Closing Chapters: Urban Change, Religious Reform, and the Decline of Youngstown's Catholic Elementary Schools, 1960-2006


Walch, Timothy, The Catholic Historical Review


Closing Chapters: Urban Change, Religious Reform, and the Decline of Youngstown's Catholic Elementary Schools, 1960-2006. By Thomas G. Welsh. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield. 2012. Pp. ix, 321. $80.00. ISBN 978-0-7391-6594-2.)

That Catholic parochial education in the United States is in decline is selfevident from a statistical profile. In the middle of the 1960s, when these institutions were at their zenith, there were 4.5 million students enrolled in more than 10,000 Catholic schools. By 2012, the number of students in such institutions had dropped to a little more than 2 million in fewer than 7000 schools. Much of the decline has taken place in the heart of urban American Catholicism- the big cities of the Northeast and the Midwest. In this important new book,Thomas G.Welsh provides something of a "morbidity and mortality" report on the decline as it played out in the Diocese of Youngstown.

It will come as no surprise to scholars of American Catholicism that Oosing Chapters began as a doctoral dissertation. As a resident of Youngstown, Welsh chose to study what he knew- the schools that had educated him during his formative years. Oosing Chapters is not a memoir, however, but rather a serious scholarly effort to understand why such an important Catholic social institution has collapsed in little more than a generation.

Welsh has traced the decline of parish schools inYoungstown and by inference across the nation to the dissolution of a distinct American Catholic identity in the years after the Second Vatican Council. Once a robust and distinct minority living in homogeneous neighborhoods, American Catholics began something of a transformation in the years after World War ?, a transformation that accelerated in the 1960s. They left their traditional neighborhoods and parishes for the suburbs and did not look back.

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