NATIONAL CATHOLIC EDUCATIONAL ASSOCIATION CONVENTION & EXPO 2019
Chicago, Illinois McCormick Place West April 23-25, 2019
The Exhibit Hall was enormous with over 300 exhibitors present. Our table looked inviting and many
stopped by to chat and learn about our NCCW. Andrea and Rose manned the table while Maribeth
attended the meetings.
The first day, Tuesday, April 23, began with Mass in the huge conference hall ballroom. A choir of
students energetically sang as Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, presided over the opening
Mass. He was accompanied by four bishops and numerous priests. Following Mass, children from a
local Catholic school performed a dragon and lotus flower dance. Watching them precisely and
gracefully perform, one was again filled with hope for our future Catholic Church, for these children and
the choir were just wonderful. It was very inspiring.
Nine thousand attendees from throughout the nation gathered for this convention so not only was it a
golden opportunity to showcase our NCCW to teachers, principals, and superintendents of Catholic
schools from across the USA, the program was jam packed with presentations. Topics of sessions
included: Academic Content, Adult Faith Formation, Assessment, Campus Ministry, Classroom
Management, Collaborative Partnerships, Digital Discipleship, Diversity, Early Childhood Education,
Enrollment, Exceptional Learners, Fiscal Responsibility, Governance, Leadership, Marketing, National
and State Perspectives, Student Faith Formation, and Student Service Programs. Each day required
choices to be made to attend one of so many offerings per session. What follows is a summary of the
sessions Maribeth was able to attend.
The first session was a broad overview of the state of Catholic education in the United States. The panel
that presented consisted of the Most Reverend Gerald Kicanas, Chair of the NCEA Board, Thomas
Burnford, President and CEO of the NCEA, Sister Dale McDonald, Director of Public Policy and
Educational Research for the NCEA, a first year teacher from a Catholic High School and a graduating
senior from a Catholic High School. Bishop Kicanas and Thomas Burnford spoke of the overall picture of
Catholic education, the young teacher spoke movingly about the lack of something she felt after two
years of college and no Catholic education that was remedied by learning of Catholic Social Teaching, In
contrast, the student spoke movingly about what she has valued in her Catholic school background.
How it has been holistic training that will remain throughout her life. Sister presented an overview of a
statistical report that is published annually by the NCEA based on census returns from all the Catholic
schools in the country.
She emphasized that Catholic school students enjoy success in later life at a much higher percentage
than private or public school students. While there are many challenges, primarily rising tuition costs,
making a Catholic school education more difficult for middle class parents especially as they are not
wealthy and they are not in a class that receives benefits due to a lack of wealth. To help with this,
dioceses around the country are implementing programs of fundraising for tuition assistance as well as
marketing the benefits of academic excellence and faith formation advantages of a Catholic education.
Optimism about school choice is growing as opinion polls demonstrate rising support for publicly
financed programs. Presently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legislation that provides some
form of financial assistance.
In 2018, 2 million children were educated in 6,289 Catholic schools. Thirty percent of Catholic schools
have waiting lists. Catholic schools saved local and state governments over 21 billion dollars/year.
Students in Catholic schools last year out-performed students from private and public schools in every
measure taken (e.g., PSAT, SAT, etc.). Forty-four of the forty-nine Federal Blue Ribbon Schools last year
were Catholic schools. The graduation rate from Catholic schools in 2018 was 99.2% while public
schools awarded diplomas to 84.1%. A recent Fordham Study noted that statistically, Catholic school
children are less likely to act out badly despite population demographics than their counterparts in
public schools. Students from disadvantaged homes succeed better in Catholic schools than public
schools. Students who attend Catholic schools are more likely to retain their Catholic identity, pray
more, and go to church more as adults than those who attended public schools. The percentage of
Catholic school graduates who attended a 4-year college is 86.5% as opposed to 46% for public school
students. An additional 10% of Catholic school students went on to a 2-year college or joined the
Enrollment is down in some areas of the country. Sixteen new schools were built last year but 110
closed. While the Hispanic and Latino populations in the Catholic Church in the US are growing, only
17.4% of the Catholic school population was Hispanic/Latino, not reflecting the growth in this
community. Must figure out a way to emphasize to the Hispanic community the value of a Catholic
Decrease in enrollment is due to: significant demographic shifts, change in church attendance, the
decrease in religious staff and increase in salaried staff with higher wages and health plans, and parental
lifestyle choices (Disney World vacation vs. Catholic school tuition).
Parental Choice for tuition assistance is growing.
The outlook for Catholic schools is hopeful but we must be vigilant in marketing the academic and faith
formation advantages of Catholic school education and must hire teachers that are familiar with and live
the Catholic faith or it is useless to tout any Catholic school identity.
The next session attended was Helping Kids and Teens Embrace the Fullness of Catholic Social Teaching.
The seven key themes of Catholic Social Teaching were explored by a man who is a child psychologist
and a catechist with action steps teachers can use for each developmental stage. The goal is to teach
that Catholic Social Teaching goes beyond politics and secular ideologies and to work beyond a polarized
society to form children and teens to live and proclaim the beauty of Catholic teaching. They must learn
to care for all creation and to defend the life, rights, and dignity of all human persons. Not an easy task
in today’s divided society but it is absolutely essential to place these children on the track of living lives
in concert with Catholic doctrines, social teaching, and values if we are ever to progress to become the
universal brotherhood that Christ proclaimed in His Gospel and that He expects of us. It is essential that
those teaching Catholic Social Teaching be seen to be living it themselves. Children and teens, whether
they may seem to or not, value what their teachers say and do and mimic it. Live Catholic values
After these sessions, attendees reconvened in the Ballroom for a lovely opening ceremony and a
General Session. Ann Garrido spoke on Embracing Grace in the 21st Century Church. She spoke of how
teaching today in Catholic schools can be challenging as we see the students/parents change in their
demeanor and demands. The pay is not commensurate with public school yet every day, there are
unexpected moments of grace that sustain teachers. She related the story of a girl named Grace who
she met as a catechist when Grace was 2. As Grace grew, she provided wise insight and probing
questions. When Grace went away to college, they lost touch and Ann was afraid of getting in touch as
she feared that Grace might have become a “none” statistic. Finally, they Skyped and we had the
benefit of seeing the tape of that conversation. Grace was now a senior in college and resolved to come
home after graduation and wanted to volunteer in the same catechist group that taught her as she grew
up. She spoke beautifully of how grateful she is to have had the benefit of finding a deep faith at a
young age that has sustained her. So, there are many “graces” found every day in teaching in a Catholic
school. Teaching in a Catholic school is a ministry and being centered in our Catholic faith and values
provides hope. Often, teachers learn as much if not more from their students than they teach the
student as the student provides a different perspective through their questions the teacher may not
have considered. Teaching in a Catholic school is a gift. Take time to nourish your own faith life and
rejoice in the moments of grace given you through your ministry. You are shaping the future of our
society and of our church.
The day closed with a “pep rally” featuring a full marching band and cheers about loving Catholic
August 24, 2019
The day began with Mass with Bishop Gerald Kicanas as principal celebrant. Beautiful music was
supplied by a local high school choir that was extraordinary. Bishop Kicanes used the reading of Paul
having the crippled man rise and walk as an example of how Jesus passed on the mission to Paul who
through apostolic succession has passed the faith to us. He also used an example of observing an old
fiddler in Appalachia teaching a young fiddler. The old man had learned from a French soldier who had
in turn learned from an older man. When asked if he was teaching for money the old man said no, it
was to pass on the music. In the same way Catholic school teachers, and all of us, are charged with
passing on the faith.
Andrea and Rose again manned our booth which saw a lot of traffic with many expressing interest in our
NCCW. It is excellent to be here as so many women mentioned that they had never heard of Council.
This was a great opportunity for us and wonderful exposure.
The first session attended was about leadership in an age of missionary discipleship and creating a
culture of growth and continuous improvement. This session incorporated teachings on leadership from
several Church documents, especially some of the recent Apostolic Exhortations. The goal was to let
these documents inform the choices we make as leaders. We began with a look at Revelation (not the
book in the Bible) but how revelation is given to us which is by creation, tradition, Scripture, and
experience. But leadership is about moving from inputs of revelation to outputs. How do you lead?
You need to share personal experiences. There is no blueprint for learning leadership. No one is born to
do it. You must examine yourself and understand your weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. We
need to stop seeking perfection in schools and in life. When we fall short, people say that is not Catholic
or how a leader acts. People are always in the process of becoming. Be patient with yourself and
constantly seek to improve. Recommended book: A Hidden Holiness. The speaker then turned to the
Parable of the Sower and said that the job of a leader is to prepare others for their work. We then
looked at some selected quotes from Evangelii Gaudium, specifically paragraphs 15, 20, 27, 37, 49, and
54. The Church grows by attraction. The Missionary Option means transforming everything for the sake
of evangelization. Mercy is the greatest virtue, and we face a globalization of indifference. What do you
value more, truth or mercy? Is it better to be correct of to be merciful? Reality is you need a mix of
both as a leader, but mercy is most important. Next, we looked at Gaudate et Exsulate number 31 and
then at various Church documents. Vatican II gave us a new look at the Mission Statement of the
Church; provided liturgical reforms and a move to the vernacular to be more accessible, and the Bible
became more available and studied by more people. The Church provided less of a fortress mentality
and more of a community. To Teach as Jesus Did, released in 1972, was a message of fellowship and
service (14). The Catholic community should not just be concerned with itself (29). A follow-up
document was called Teach Them with the goals of doctrine, community, and service. Administrators
must foster community. Catholic schools are expensive and often pastors feel they are too expensive.
Must affirm the commitment to Catholic schools. A 1977 document, The Catholic School: Salvific
Mission of the Church stated that the primary mission of the Church is to save souls, provide formation
of the whole person. This is the privileged role of Catholic schools and organizations. Schools must be
communities with values communicated as relationships. The same is true of our NCCW. Beatitudes
should define the values of the Catholic school (same for our NCCW). Best to stop using the phrase
Gospel values as most Catholics sadly are not familiar with what Gospel values are (when parents were
givens a list of phrases and asked to circle Gospel values, they thought an eye for an eye was a Gospel
value). Instead, say the Beatitudes define the values. The document finally stated that the value of
Catholic schools is not dependent upon their methodology or technology but truly on the quality of the
teachers. Question: What do you do when choosing teachers? Take the best qualified in their subject
or take good but less qualified teachers who know Catholic values and live them. Response: The latter
should be chosen unless the highly qualified teacher can and is willing to learn Catholic teachings and
incorporate them into the classroom. Experience depends on knowing yourself, learning from trusted
others, values, accountability, transparency, and honesty. How much do we share and with whom?
Find people to trust that you can share with. Book recommendation: Henri Nouwen’s Life of the
Beloved. Best book on leadership. Breaks into a 4-part movement: Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given.
Taken = you were chosen for where you are. You were given gifts from God for a reason. 2. You have
been blessed with the gifts you were given and the opportunity to use them, 3. You’ve been
broken/disappointed in life. Everyone has these times. 4. Continue to give and serve. In another book,
Lowney (75) says that 71% of Catholics who left the Church said they left because their spiritual needs
were not being met. They are leaving Church and Catholic schools because their sense of community is
not being met. Sergiovanni’s book, Moral Leadership, says we need to create followers, not
subordinates. Everyone should agree on normative rationality. A common culture requires moral
authority. The Haas song, You Are Mine, speaks to not being afraid -God has blessed you so use those
The next session was given the title: Do You Know Who I Am? Reflecting Catholic Identity
Since this entire Convention was for Catholic school teachers and administrators, like other sessions, this
one concentrated on Catholic school identity. While the other sessions translated easily to our NCCW,
this one was rather specific to Catholic schools but of great interest and can be extrapolated to pertain
to our NCCW. The goal was to get participants to reflect deeply on the nature of Catholic identity as we
are surrounded by a very secular society. Catholic schools now may include non-Catholic students in
parts of the country. We need to determine what are the essential attributes of a Catholic school that
cannot be surrendered for enrollment numbers. First and foremost is that the school must have a
distinctly Catholic mission in the world. How can the school foster the mission of the Church in a very
secular world? How can they be welcoming to all yet maintain a strong Catholic identity? Well, it is a
mistake to think that by advertising a school as Christian that they can maintain a Catholic identity.
Catholic schools are different from Christian schools which are now largely seen as Evangelical or
Fundamental. It is a mistake to think that hiring faculty that may be well qualified in their subject but
are not versed in Catholic tradition and values could translate to furthering the mission of the Church or
to making a Catholic school Catholic. Attendance at Mass for schoolchildren should be as frequent as
possible with reinforcement of what the children are seeing, praying, and doing given in the classroom.
Catholic schools should retain visuals of Catholic identity: crucifixes in each classroom, statues, etc.
Religion class should not be a watered-down version of Catholic teachings to make it more broadly
Christian. Catholic Social Teachings presented appropriately at each grade/developmental level must be
incorporated into more than religion class. Service projects should not be seen as fun time away from
the classroom or as hours that need to be fulfilled but must be presented as something Catholics want
to do and should continue to do throughout their lives joyfully for it is in helping others that we receive.
It is never too young to start teaching prayers and tenets of the faith. In order to remain a Catholic
school, attributes that make the school Catholic must not be surrendered to grow enrollment. The
purpose of a Catholic school is to provide a holistic formation so that the student learns and lives a
Catholic identity throughout the rest of their lives. This is as important, perhaps more so, than academic
excellence. Both are needed but if a school is a Catholic school, it should be unapologetically so.
Parishioners, benefactors, and alumni expect no less. Financial assistance for tuition should be
advocated for by schools wherever states have not granted parental choice.
The next session concerned the dynamics of disaffiliation in young Catholics. This would complement
our newest resource, Calling All Catholics: Passing Our Faith to the Next Generation. St. Mary’s Press
related their extensive research on young Catholics who have left the Church. The study examines young
people between 15-25 years old who once were Catholic but who do not identify as Catholic now.
They reviewed the factors that reinforce the dynamics that lead to disaffiliation and the implications
for the Church and for Catholic schools. Their study is called Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of
Disaffiliation in Young Catholics. Statistics were collected making this a quantitative study and stories
were recorded and studied making it a qualitative study, as well. It showed that there is a pattern -a
process- that takes time before disaffiliation occurs, until someone says, “Enough, I’m done.” Most say
they are done with Church but not with their faith. This can lead us to a feeling of despair as if our
Church is doomed but, we need to look at what is happening in the lives of young people today. There is
great hope because Catholic school teachers and catechists care deeply about the young and about the
The qualitative data are data with stories or stories with a soul. It requires deep listening to young
people. Doing so reveals the complexity of disaffiliation. We were told that there were 3 stores we
were going to hear and we were asked to listen with sacred listening; not in a judgmental way.
The first story was from a young woman named Lauren. Lauren has decided that God is everywhere in
all nature so she now describes herself as a, “spiritual Catholic with post-modern identity.” She stated
that since we cannot know the ultimate truth, there is no point in discussing which religion is right or
wrong. She identifies most with Catholic Social Teachings. She feels all should support the LGBTQ
community and that we all experience God differently. There is no absolute right way. She wants the
Church to have women deacons and priests and feels the Church makes it very difficult for young
women to stay in the Church. Growing up Catholic, she always felt on the outskirts because of her
sexual orientation that she states that God gave her. An analysis of her story reveals that she is very
articulate and thoughtful. Most young people deeply care about the religious longings in their life.
So why do they leave? It is not about the Catholic Church. This disaffiliation is happening in all faith
traditions. A PEW study in 2014 revealed that in 2007, 36.6 million young adults indicated that they had
no religions affiliation. In 2014, this number was 55.8 million. 23% of the US population declares no
However, this trend is not new in the modern world. It has been happening for the last 500 years- but
imperceptibly. A Gallup poll shows that the rate of disaffiliation has increased dramatically since 1993.
In 1993, the rate of disaffiliation was 8% while in 2014, it was 23%.
Actually, in our present day, disaffiliation is not a youth issue but their parents were the first generation
with a significant percentage of non-affiliation rates.
Many pastors used to think that leaving the Church was a temporary thing; that it is something kids do
and then return when they want to marry or have children, when they mature. But the reality is that
this is not happening. One only needs to look at the numbers of baptisms, weddings, and funerals in a
parish to see this. The trend will continue generationally in the US though we are lagging behind Europe
and Australia by about 15 years.
Statistics show that there is no difference in disaffiliation between males and females; it is about 50/50.
The most predominant to leave are non-Hispanic whites with a rate of 44% followed by the Hispanic or
Latino population with a rate of 36%. With immigration increasing in the latter group, this number is
going up for them and they are expected to catch up to the disaffiliation rate of whites shortly.
Disaffiliation also increases with an increase in wealth and with higher education.
Disaffiliation also happens most to those who have been very active in the Church.
The median age of disaffiliation is 13 years old.
AGE Rate of Disaffiliation
Those less than 10 disaffiliated due to parental change (divorce or parents changed religion or stopped
practicing). But from 13-17, the youth have made a conscious thoughtful decision to leave on their own.
Where do they go?
None (no affiliation) 35%
Christian non-Protestant 29%
The vast majority do not leave because they no longer believe in God but what they mean by God is
Reasons given why they left:
Disagree with the teachings of the Church 38.9%
No need for religion -myths 16.7%
Changed denomination 16.1%
Family changed 16.1%
Don’t believe in God 9.4%
Moral failures in the Church 7.8%
No freedom to question 7.8%
Just drifted away 2.8%
Not welcoming 1.1%
However, the interviews show that it is not that simple. The real reasons are many and complex per
person. Since they are different and multiple for each person, there is no easy canned solution.
Story 2 was from Beatrice. Her family came from Mexico when she was young. They had been Catholic
in Mexico and her grandmother was very devout. Her mother was not so devout. When they came to
America, her uncle founded his own Christian church where he was the pastor. She went to both the
Catholic church and to her uncle’s church. When she was 10, she felt it was insane to ask a child of 10 to
confess sins to a stranger. Then, she just started believing in God on her own. She felt that organized
religion separates rather than unites. She believes now in a higher power that is in everyone and
everything and that the Church has mis-interpreted the Bible, perhaps because of so many translations.
She questions why gay marriage is wrong if two people love each other and it hurts no one. She feels
the Church makes her unhappy. She feels it makes you a better person to listen to the higher power in
yourself. When you leave church after confession, you leave feeling judged. Now, she is happier. A
review of her story shows that as a 10-year old, she encountered unreconciled discrepancies. She left
church feeling judged. After the statisticians reviewed her tape, they uncovered 44 discrete things she
said that answered why she left the Church. Every person who leaves has complex and multiple reasons
for leaving. There is never any one thing that drives them away. Most just drift away very slowly over
time with one reason after another mounting up until there is one final one that pushes them to make
Are we paying attention? Disaffiliation is a process that can start when young and happens over time.
Like the breakdown of a relationship between couples, it happens over time. There was no one there to
help her reconcile her issues. An accumulation of unresolved questions and issues, left unaccompanied,
builds up and then there is one last thing, the proverbial final straw.
We need to be present and see the issues, to be attentive to each individual.
There is, however, something even more important, something bigger at play, driving disaffiliation in the
US: Secularization theory and religious identity. Secularization is not a loss in belief in God but the
shifting role of the place of religion in culture.
In our culture, trust in institutions across the board has dropped:
Institution 1970’s Now Alternate
Big Business 26% 18% Local markets
Medical System 80% 39% Homeopaths
Presidency 52% 36% Local government
TV News 46% 21% Niche news
Fewer Catholics recognize the relevance of the sacraments or understand the Eucharist or Mass.
The culture is fundamentally shifting. Religious identity that was centered in organized religion has
shifted to being centered in personal choice and is personally constructed piecemeal from amalgams of
The third interview was of Rachel. She was ultra-Catholic growing up. When she got to college, she did
not know how to relate to non-Catholics. She began to question everything. She lost her faith and
questioned her belief in God. Now, she identifies as “Catholic-adjacent.” She loves Catholic Social
Teaching and Social Justice but believes that women should be ordained. She doesn’t want a church that
divides. She thinks that rather than dictating what you should be before you come to church, that
people should go to church and be transformed. She went from being ultra-Catholic to “Catholic-ish”, to
“Catholic-adjacent.” There is a fluidity to religious identity here. They gradually move away.
The Church is no longer the center of identity.
Though youth walk away from religion, they seek and construct their own religions communities.
The Dinner Party where women who have suffered loss get together over dinner and wine once a month
and talk about it to each other. It is cathartic. They have reconstructed the Early Church.
Another example is Crossfit, a training organization. The founder of Crossfit describes it as a quasireligious experience that is all about being neighborhood based and giving a sense of belonging. In
training coaches, he tells them that they are not in a fitness business but in the belonging business.
They are trained to know how to connect to the deepest parts of clients. He tells them that if they come
to know the client that way, the client will never leave. He concludes that people may go to get fit a bit,
but they go more to belong. Yoga and Meditation Centers work on the same premise.
The orthodox established church pyramid is believe, behave, belong but this no longer holds people in
community. Just the opposite does. Belonging is the foundational point of identity for the young.
What Can We Do?
The answer is found in cows!!! The question was raised in a study in England as to why some cows
produced more milk than others, everything else being equal (breed, age, size, etc.). Were they being
fed an organic diet? Were they being given special food? Was it naming and calling them by name?
Surprisingly, it was the last, naming and calling the cow by name.
Our deepest human longing is that we yearn for a place to be known, nurtured, welcomed, free from
judgment of fear of rejection, free to express ourselves, and a place where we would be missed if we
were not there. To be known by name and missed if gone. People don’t leave if they believe they are
The Catholic School System in the US may well be the last touch point for Catholic youth. Parish life is
fading but Catholic schools establish a sense of belonging.
Build a community where the youth are known, and their problems and sorrows are acknowledged.
The Constitution on the Church in the Modern Age opening paragraph speaks to this. Today, the call
made in Lumen Gentium is being carried out by Crossfit!
Understand that we need to get back to this. A sense of belonging will impact a young person’s life,
letting them know they are loved and by this, teaching them to love others.
God entrusts the young to our care. The greatest gift is a Catholic education grounded in truths, care,
This ended Maribeth’s participation as she had to leave the next day, the last half-day of the
Convention, to go to Idaho for their state CCW Convention. Andrea manned our NCCW booth through
to the end and reported a great deal of traffic. We received new memberships. This experience was
well worth the time and money involved for the exposure our NCCW received to 9,000 attendees,
mostly women teachers, was invaluable.
-Maribeth Stewart Blogoslawski