The Catholic school system in the United States deserves a critical study of its rapid growth and decline but When The Sisters Said Farewell: The Transition of Leadership in Catholic Elementary Schools is not that book. The purpose of this book is not clear.

Michael Caruso, instead, gives us a book of anecdotal information which communicates details about where Sisters came from, their educational shortcomings and their struggles with pastors, all of which has been detailed before in other books. There is, also, some discussion about whether it is possible to have Catholic schools without religious Sisters. Stereotypes proliferate his writing.

The book has an appendix which includes interesting correspondence between an Irish group of Sisters and the Cardinal of Los Angeles about providing religious teachers for the archdiocesan schools. In the letters we learn that the Sisters were paid $50 per month and that the order went on to staff many schools in California and elsewhere.

Caruso makes the same mistake as other writers on the subject of the declining numbers of Sisters by crediting externals such as dropping of  the religious habit or the size of living groups for causing the decline. Discussing the sustainability of systems would be a better starting point.

Any system which declines so rapidly should be critically analyzed for the fatal flaws which made it unsustainable. Both the rapid growth of the Catholic school system and the rapid growth of religious orders were obviously unsustainable and deserve critical analysis. What were the fatal flaws?

The sustainability in the case of the schools and orders may be due to the fact that both the schools and the orders failed to include basic psychological values and economic realities in their organizational systems.

Transparency is a word which describes a variety of issues related to sustainability: communication of all costs involved in schools (not just providing a convent), community-based long-range planning, and respect for the basic humanity of each teacher. The human rights of teachers was not a factor in the planning.

Maybe the basic question is whether a school system for all Catholic children can be developed to provide both religious formation and basic elementary education at the same time. Past history seems to say this is not a sustainable system.

I would appreciate it if you  leave a comment below.

About paaron1

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  1. Larry Cada, SM says:

    This is an excellent review. It adds to the other book reviews you have put on your blog. I see now that reviewing books with quality analysis is one of your talents. (It’s like your ability to take beautiful pictures, which you also post.) From your review, I know that I do not want to take the trouble to find this book and read it, even though I am very interested in the questions that surround the future of religious life (of both men and women religious). However, I welcome the kind of discussion of the future of religious life which you suggest in the review. Keep up the excellent things you are posting on your blog. Thanks for your sharing. It’s a real gift to all of us.
    Peace, Larry Cada

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