Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Six Thousand

This week Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia will officially close...a thought considered impossible in 1958 when it opened as the largest Catholic high school in the world. Those were the glory days for American Catholicism. Seminaries and convents were struggling to find room for their unending floods of candidates. Priests sat down to rectory dinners at crowded dinning room tables. It was unusual to see an elderly priest. It was equally unusual to have a teacher who was not either a priest or a nun. Parishes and schools were well into a building frenzy. The issue of individual conscience and disagreeing with Church doctrine seemed to be non existent. There were the rules, and those who disobeyed them confessed their sins, or just left. No energy was waisted on accommodation and strained compromises. The Church was "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" in word and actuality. Each year Cardinal Dougherty would graduate well over 1,000 students. Its halls were built extra wide to accommodate the vast crowds during the change of classes. Tuition was $25.00, books were rented, field trips and movies were unheard of. Silence permeated the school during instruction time. All of the 6,000 students prayed as a mass 8 times a day. Female students wore modest uniforms. Male students sported a suit, white shirt and tie. Sneaks appeared in gym and jeans at home. Ours was a European style education with emphasis on lecture and memorization devoid of any current educational fix all program. Manners, respect, patriotism and God were the constant themes of the school.

Today, the building houses 500 students within its endless halls and 2,000 seat auditorium. Nuns disappeared first, then the priests. Catholicism probably has a bare majority as the faith of the student body. Enduring a withering storm of Great Recession, clerical scandals, and a pagan culture, the building somehow remained open until now. It closes this week. The marvel is that it lasted this long. In many ways it represents the Church in America today. Standing, empty and beloved by those who are blessed with memories of a better America. We are promised by Christ that Holy Mother Church will survive to the end of times. He never mentioned, however, our numbers.