Academic journal article Church History

English Catholics and the Education of the Poor, 1847-1902

Academic journal article Church History

English Catholics and the Education of the Poor, 1847-1902

Article excerpt

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This is an excellent study, firmly based on archival research and on primary and secondary literature, of a subject central to the history of Roman Catholicism in Victorian England. The more than fourfold increase in the number of English Catholic elementary schools in the second half of the nineteenth century, matching a more than fourfold increase in the number of priests, lay at the heart of the Roman Catholic revival, inspired by the instruction of the First Synod of Westminster in 1852 on opening schools which might also serve as chapels over building separate churches. Much of the Catholic effort received government funding, from the first state grants to the Catholic Poor School Committee in 1847 to the consolidation of the Church's position by the Balfour Act of 1902.

Professor Tenbus argues that the English Catholic community of gentry-led Old Catholics, converts, and Irish Catholic immigrants (most of which being very poor) had a fundamental lack of unity. There were determined efforts to make the educational issue a unifying principle for English Catholics, undergirded by a distinctive Catholic educational philosophy articulated by the Catholic bishops. Education was to fit the believer for both here and, more fundamentally, for the hereafter. Such unity of purpose as Catholics displayed was based on their wholehearted belief in Catholicism: Catholics were at least agreed about what Catholic education was for.

The central practical difficulties of the Catholic system were a lack of money and such related issues as the poverty of pupils, pupil absenteeism (especially for work), a shortage of male teachers, high rates of teacher turnover, and poor equipment and facilities generally. The Church's political dilemma lay in its older alignment with the Liberal Party, which had supported Catholic Emancipation but, under Dissenting and secularizing influences, set out to establish a system of nondenominational education. The Church was only partly assisted by the Irish Catholic parliamentary representatives at Westminster, who stressed Irish issues over Catholic educational ones.

Professor Tenbus gives a careful account of the Catholic reaction to the proposal to introduce state schools in 1870, when the definition of papal infallibility weakened the Catholic influence with the Liberal Party. …

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