I went to a Catholic high school. It wasn't my choice. Like most people of the pre-millennial generations, I didn't have those "You go ahead and decide what you want" parents. My dad went to Catholic schools in Chicago as a young Polack, and such would be my lot as well.

The Covington Catholic story prompted me to think about the place I went a little more fondly. I have no memories at all of getting right-wing political messaging from the priests, nuns, or lay teachers there. Conversely, there are many clear memories of adults telling us things like "You are all very sheltered" and "You're here because your parents can afford to send you here." Our "World Religions" course, often a propaganda nightmare at Catholic schools, actually taught me some things about the world's major religions.

The thing is, it wasn't overall a Good School in any meaningful sense even though adults constantly referred to it as a Good School. I graduated barely knowing any math. It offered 3 AP classes, while the nearby public schools had a dozen. One of the teachers told us (in 1995) her salary was under $20,000. Many of the teachers were priests or nuns who had no formal training in teaching. The sports-first culture of the school was cloying.

What was clear throughout, even to people as young and naive as we were, was that going to Catholic school was above all about whiteness. Parents (not only my own, but the peer parents as well) were explicit about this. Because while I have no memories of getting right-wing indoctrination from adults at school, I remember a lot of it coming from my classmates' parents. We were sandwiched between Joliet and Chicago, and my high school was "safe" unlike the public schools (which, statistically or subjectively, are not dangerous schools by any measure). Those schools had "gangs," were "dangerous," or simply were "bad," all of which were such transparent code words that even 14 year-olds knew what they meant: they had black kids, Hispanic kids, poor kids, etc.

My school was not exclusively white, of course, but the cost of entry ensured that the black and Hispanic kids were sufficiently "good kids" from "good families." The Covington example seems to be one in which school officials – one priest in particular – were indeed giving the kids a heavily MAGA political message. But among Catholic schools around the country I'd be stunned if that was the norm. The Fox News rhetoric isn't coming from priests and teachers; it comes – in unbelievably heavy and consistent doses – from the kind of parent who insists that their kids attend a Catholic school. A scattered few probably have deeply held Catholic beliefs behind that motivation, and those become apparent as students get to know one another and the families. Much more common are the families who don't seem to know or care that the nearby public schools have better facilities, more "college prep" options, and in some areas far more funding. They simply want to make sure their kids, who are very Good, go to school exclusively with other Good Kids instead of the riff-raff and "Gang Bangers."

Your experience may vary. Mine was unambiguous.

45 thoughts on “CATHOLIC”

  • I went to Boston College High School, 1987-1991, The Kavanaugh saga remind me of how much I hated the privilege at that school. I enjoyed some. But there were boys who lived as Kavanaugh did and enjoyed a lot of privilege. The Covington Catholic story is a collision of even more themes. The Right Wing sees Sandmann as their antidote to future US Senator David Hogg. Like Hogg, Sandmann seems to be German-American (the Cincinnati/Convington area is heavily German-American). But more important, Sandmann was used by his school as a body – a filler – to attend the shrinking March for Life. And he took it a step further to wear a MAGA hat and heckle pedestrians in DC (there are multiple photos and videos of him and his mates before the infamous video).

    But I was reminded of something else. As much as I hate the catholic church now, I don't regret the privilege of attending BC High. It got me where I am today. And as far as I know, there are Kavanaughs at the school now as there were in 1991. But there is also a zero tolerance policy for racist behavior in public. Years ago, some BC High students harassed, taunted and assaulted a Chinese man on a subway. They were identified and expelled. Then in 2014, there was a harassment scandal in which BC High students harassed female teachers. They were expelled. I hope the discipline holds up, because in this Internet age, bad behavior is easier than ever to record and document.

    Sandmann and his mates still need to be expelled. But they won't be. Sandmann will be accepted by Georgetown or Boston College, and will one day sit on a Federal bench or be a partner in an investment or law firm. That's how this works.

  • Covington HS is in a small diocese, also called Covington.
    That diocese has paid out over 120 million dollars to settle clerical sexual abuse lawsuits.

    What I guess I'm saying is that this fish seems to have rotted from the head.

  • Catholic schools, white flight, its all the same. My brother moved deeper into the suburbs so his kid could go to a "good school" read: whiter, but also complains about the tax hike. The mental gymnastics must be exhausting.

  • Can also confirm.

    I attended one of the largest Catholic high schools in the NE. It was good academically, didn't throw sports in your face (did no recruiting like other schools did), and was a pretty good picture of Queens, NY's cultural diversity. It offered scholarships for low income students and was very liberal when it came to religion classes (including sex ed). But, it still harbored the same elitist view of the world, and constantly protected its staff against sexual harassment scandals that bubbled up years after I had left. The sports programs (I played baseball) were the same "good old boys" clubs. The best basketball players that we knew from playing pick-up after school played AAU because the school coaches wouldn't play them on the team (they were African-American). I remember one African-American teacher. One.

    Oh boy, but I was still lucky to go to an exception, of which I only recognized when I drove by Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, MD when I went to college. I was always scared of using the 'Prep' name when I met people, because I didn't want to be associated with G-Town Prep. That was culture shock below the Mason-Dixon Line, even for a Catholic prep school kid like me. Oy vey.

  • Oddly enough, the Catholic school I went to was actually more diverse and left-leaning than the nearby public schools. I grew up in very white, very conservative suburbs in Utah, so the public schools in the area were essentially private schools for well-to-do LDS kids, whereas the Catholic school pulled in a lot of the Latino and Asian kids around the valley, as well as people who tended not to be involved in various LDS ward activities for whatever reason, and had scholarship programs that made it affordable for pretty much anyone who was willing to go to church once a month or so.

    That said, there were definitely still parents who had the "my child is in private school to avoid the riffraff" mentality. A fair number of them lived in gated communities, and lots of others aspired to (including, e.g., a friend of mine whose dad named him after Robert E. Lee despite being from North Dakota and having no Confederate ties whatsoever). I imagine that in places where the surroundings are less lily-white that group becomes dominant.

  • My Catholic PreK-8th grade experience was a little different. It wasn’t all bad. When you spent most of your life with the same kids, you sort of get used to each other, and we weren’t all white (myself included). Needless to say, my parents figured out they did not need to spend the money paying for Catholic school to get an ok education. They just moved to the burbs and paid up the nose in property taxes for good public high schools.
    All that being said, my experience around black kids at both these places was very very limited at best.

  • To further your point about the responsibility of parents, someone provided those kids with all that MAGA crap. They're kids, they're not making their own money and buying their own stuff. They are props and mascots for their shitty, hateful parents. Truly pathetic.

  • From a small Catholic highschool in upstate NY here. You want to talk diversity, we brought together Irish kids from the Southside, Italian kids from the Eastside and Polish kids from the Northside. With a few doctors' kids from the Westside thrown in for added color.

    Mainly want to say that my experience was the same. The kids were no better but no worse than the public school counterparts (with whom I attended K-8). Near as I can tell, there are two determining factors that keep the toxic prep culture at bay:

    1. Co-ed
    2. Run by nuns

    Lose either of those and forget it.

  • Did you go to Providence Catholic in New Lenox? If so, public schools in the area were just as white (I went to Andrew). All of suburban Chicagoland was mostly white. The gangs you refer to were 50 miles away (segregated into ghettos caused by misguided policies of the Chicago Housing Authority—but that is another topic).

    The demographics of my public school were class-based, not racial. We had rich white kids, middle class white kids, and poor white kids. Race wasn’t even on the radar (other than the occasional Polish joke). I highly doubt parents that sent their kids to Providence. did so for racial reasons. That wasn’t necessary in this area. Parents sent their kids to catholic school either for the sports programs or for the theological lessons.

  • Went to a Catholic all boy school run by the Christian Brothers [ironic name] so I am neither shocked or surprised. It’s toxic environment, see Lord of the Flies for more details

  • Catholic schools (especially Jesuit run) were relatively liberal, academically, until the reign of John Paul II who purged liberal elements in academy for the sake of reclaiming conservative Catholicism (the kind he grew up with in Poland). People who were taught in the 60s/70s, like my wife, are shocked by this harsh right turn in the schools.

  • I went to another Catholic all boy high school in the Chicago area, and what AR says above about class pretty much describes my experience. Only a couple of black kids, I don't remember any hispanics, but the area was largely white anyway.

    A couple of things do stand out in my mind (it's been a while). What kind of car you drove was important. If you didn't have your own car you couldn't run with some of the cool kids, and one of them got a Porsche for his 16th birthday and was revered as a god.

    One of my friends was 100% Polish, replete with the shortened name, and he got mad if you called him "Polack" and once complained to the principal about a teacher who made a brief, offhand Polish joke when answering another student's question. This kid also used the word "nigger" more than just about anyone else I knew at the time (but not as much as his father).

    Ed, this dynamic is also important in your current situation. You know who your students are, don't you? They couldn't get into Northwestern, U of I, Notre Dame, or Marquette, and their parents cannot bare the shame of sending their them to Northern Illinois (my school), so one of the fallbacks is Bradley (along with Drake and Loras).

  • Emily Beauvais says:

    I went to private Catholic schools in the southwest burbs too! Queen of Martyrs and Marist. Where did you go?

  • democommie in movie of his life, written by, directed by, produced by and starring himself, also does credible impersonation of Morgan Freeman's mellifluous tones, ala, "The Shawshank Redemption":

    That day in May, 1967 when he graduated HS, democommie had crawled through 13 YEARS of the most vile foms of punishment–why, I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to…":.

    It fucking sucked.

    10 siblings–I was the one with "promise" but who was also "lazy" and "incurious" and "rebellious". Actually, I was the one who was sexually abused and had ADD/ADHD that went undiagnosed until I was 44 yo. I failed pretty much everything but reading–every semester–and they kept moving me along 'cuz? I have no fucking idea, what was going on, because until my last year of HS not one teacher ever indicated to me that I might have some spark worth kindling to flame but, instead, they tried ALWAYS to make me a "good student".

    I would homeschool my kids before I'd put them in such a place.

    What I learned in school was almost entirely from reading on my own.

    "But there is also a zero tolerance policy for racist behavior in public."

    Yep. But get in the lege and then you can fuck over as many p.o.c. as you like.

    @ Major Kong:

    He was truthin'ya, son; he was truthin'ya!

  • My catholic high school was also sports-focused but did have excellent academics and a HUGE focus on social justice. Probably not a coincidence it was a Jesuit school, not a diocesan school. And I think there's definitely a regional thing going on here. Northern KY is incredibly effing white. Where I was (on the west coast) was ethnically diverse and the school reflected that to a certain extent (still pretty damn white).

  • I went to a Catholic high school in western Washington that turned out to be more liberal and more diverse than the local public schools. For example, I got a real sex ed class complete with birth control information, etc (from a nun no less!), while my peers in public school got abstinence only. It also has the lowest tuition rates of the private schools in the area, and a strong exchange student program – both may have helped with diversity.

  • Covington, KY racial demographics indicate 11-12% p.o.c., trending "blackisher". There's obviously enough p.o.c., the question is, haz benjamins AND not be uppity.

    Oh, yeah, killer athlete skilz, also.

  • I second xulon's statement above…went to a (diocesean) Catholic HS in the late 1970s/early 1980s…much more open/liberal then than it is today (having taught there a couple years). Many schools and the Church itself swung very much to the right politically under Pope John II.

  • Today's Catholic schools in the South in particular are segregation academy cash cows for the diocese. Few of them even have any Catholic clergy on staff, nevermind Catholic leadership.

  • One other thing I'd add that led to this and other issues (Kavanaugh?) is the all-male aspect of some of these schools…breeding ground (no pun intended) for a lot of problems.

  • Welp, not that we don't have some Catholic schools Down South here, but the biggest private schools are Baptist. They serve the same purpose, though: segregation.

  • Yeah, Geoff, the Baptist schools didn't exist before desegregation, unlike the Catholic schools. But the Catholic schools are particularly cash cows for the diocese today because they have a better academic reputation than the Baptist schools and thus can charge a premium (unlike when I was a kid when the Catholic elementary school charged $35/month tuition!). Let's face it, a school that doesn't teach evolution is a school that doesn't teach science, and Catholic schools teach evolution, while Baptist schools don't. That's indicative of their whole academic approach, the Catholic Church has no problem with science ("evolution is a matter of science, not of faith, so the Church has no opinion about it"), while the Baptists are like, "if it ain't in the Bible, it ain't true."

  • My parents grew up in the Detroit area in the 50s and 60s, and went to Catholic school all the way through college. They swore that their kids would go to public school. So when I grew up in the 70s and 80s, my first encounter with Catholic school kids of my generation was at catechism classes at the local church. I was astonished to find that the Catholic school boys were the worst behaved and knew the least about Christianity and the Bible. It was only later that I learned that even in our suburb – which was very white – their parents wanted to make sure they went to the whitest school possible.

  • Well, segregating schools (and the rest of daily life) makes a lot of sense from the viewpoint of those who hate to be reminded that their former property is now roaming free.

  • Another Greater Boston Catholic School graduate here. In my case Austin Prep in the mid 70's. It's now coed, but was all-male when I attended. I would have been stunned to get any kind of political indoctrination back then. While I have not maintained my ties, I would not believe it if someone told me it's happening there now.

  • Ugh, another part of American life that is made worse by both obvious and hidden racism.

    Considering how well the moneyed interests in this country have always managed to use race to prevent the general populace from having the basic services provided by every other 1dt world nation.

    If we had the racial demographics of great Britain or France this country would have universal health care. It wont ever get universal healthcare though because there are to many people who would literally rather die of a cureable disease than think that 1 dollar of there taxes might help a black guy.

  • Went to a jesuit HS in Phoenix. Very liberal at the time. Wonderful life changing experience. Big difference between jesuit and other Catholic schools. yeah I know Georgetown prep was Jesuit but there will always be bad apples. My graduating was 100% white, with a few jews and me, the only Episcopalian.

    Our daughters attended a big Catholic High School in San Diego. Lots of kids in MAGA hats. Very different than my experience.

  • @ Jim G:

    Ah, Austin Prep, knew an english or history teacher who taught there. I had a hard enough time with the cath-o-lick mutt dayschool that I did my time in.

  • I went to a Catholic high school on the west coast between 1983-1987. It was a small school and everyone was supposed to play a sport, join the band or participate in knowledge bowl, etc. 30% of the students were Hispanic. The academic standards were good or at least better than the public schools in my suburb. The politics were all over the place and I think the school was fairly liberal at the time, although it has produced a few Republican mayors and city council members. We were closer to Vatican II back then so it still seemed like you could be a good Catholic and a liberal Democrat.

    The racism and outrageous displays of white male privilege coming out of Covington is disgusting. I knew the Catholic church has steadily drifted right in the US which is why I have refused to have anything to do with it. But I am surprised how stupid the right wing of the Catholic Church has become. These fools at Covington are doing the work of the KKK and don't remember how it was for Catholics of all colors before the 1960s.

    Pope Francis won't be able to save the Catholic Church from these idiots. Oh well, too bad.

  • I went to a public high school on the West side of Grand Rapids, MI. Back then the West side was the white working class end of town. West Catholic, the catholic high school on that same end of town, was our chief rival in athletics. The elementary school on that end of town that I went to was pretty much completely white due to the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood, but when we hit middle school families had to decide whether to send their kids to a school with some of "those people" or funnel them into the Catholic school. It was not in any way a secret amongst my friends from elementary school/the neighborhood why some kids' parents were sending them to West Catholic. It was to keep them away from the "bad element" at the public high school.

    The ironic thing is that the public high school was fine, and in many ways offered fewer temptations to misbehave than the Catholic high school. A few kids had small parties where there was alcohol, but not the Kavanaugh and Squi-esque bashes that featured lots of people getting trashed beyond coherence and doing illicit drugs. I heard about a couple bashes hosted by people from my high school (was not popular enough to be invited) that resembled the parties that went on at the Catholic high school kids' houses, but they were pretty few and far between. They were much more common amongst the Catholic school students for the same reason they were more common amongst the tony suburban high school districts – those kids and their parents had the means to get mass quantities of alcohol and drugs. Their parents could afford to vacation far from home. The public school kids…their parents hardly ever went anywhere without the kids for days because they couldn't afford to, so there were no "the parents won't be back for days" bashes, and the public school kids mostly had to work to have walking around money and hence had less time to goof off partying.

    In short, we behaved much better than the Catholic school kids in many ways. By sheltering their kids from the "bad element" they actually exposed them to more debauchery than would have been the case if they"d gone to our public high school. Seems like their definition of "good kids" was always way off. I mean, if your definition of a good kid is a date rapist who is white but a hispanic or black kid who treats women with respect is a "bad element" then your definition of the bad element is based on race, not behavior, and hence is completely out of whack.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Back in the late 1960s, I went to a Catholic military high school in New Lexington, Ohio. Since closed.

    Several black people, who were by far the best athletes. Many Polish, Italian and Irish descendants.

    We were in total four hispanic people for the whole school. (Two from Mexico, one from Guatemala, another from Venezuela).
    My recollection is that they treated us more with curiosity than anything else. But they would beat the sh!t out of us if we spoke a single word of Spanish.

  • "if your definition of a good kid is a date rapist who is white but a hispanic or black kid who treats women with respect is a "bad element" then your definition of the bad element is based on race, not behavior, and hence is completely out of whack."

    Thus has it always been with those idiots.

    @ Schmitt Trigger:

    I think those were people that all people of good will can call, "fucking assholes".

  • The Diocese of Covington covers 13 Kentucky counties. Mason County has highest black population at 7 percent; Kenton County (Covington Catholic's county) is four percent black. Most of the remaining counties are between one-half of one percent black to 1.5% black. Those who attend these schools are not motivated by race. Some may be motivated by a desire to avoid extremely impoverished white students, but poor white people are not a race.

    My kids attended a Diocese of Covington school through third and fourth grade. I agree with you about the math instruction, but the reading and writing instruction was phenomenal. Some of the kids clearly come from families with very little money, and there were quite a few new Hispanic immigrants. Many of these kids paid heavily reduced tuition.

    I can understand that you might or might not like Catholic schools, but in most of Kentucky and Ohio attending has nothing to do with "whiteness" because virtually everyone in the county is white.

  • Covington High School seems to be even more racist and bigoted than most Catholic schools, if you can take this first-hand account seriously.

    Interesting post, as usual. The use of "Polack" stood out, since when I was in Wisconsin in the late 60s the word was only slightly less disparaging than the N word. (Shakespeare used it in Hamlet, and even then I think it was somewhat contemptuous) But allowing for Ed's being at least part Polish, maybe an expression of casual self-disparagement.

  • Something I have heard from multiple people I know who went to Catholic Schools, (including my wife) is that the education they received there gave them critical thinking skills that seem to be lacking in public education. Ironically, those very skills taught them to view Catholicism skeptically in the long run, none of them stayed in the church. But these are people who are now in their 50's and 60's, so I don't know how true that is any more.

  • My mother flipped out when they changed the boundaries for our school district, which meant that I would go to one of the "bad" schools, which had been moved to a brand new building. Yep, she considered it was bad because of the blacks and browns that went there. I don't know that I really clued into that until I started attending and it dawned on me what her issues were.

  • Having also gone to a Catholic High School, with a similar rather mixed academic record, I sympathize, Ed. I managed to get the hell out of it (pardon the phrase) for my last two years of HS – and I found the public high school a refreshing change in rigor and *lack* of cliquishness. (I will not refer to one of the ringleaders of the Catholic HS cliques, out of respect for the dead, even though I could drop his name as my "brush with fame".) The Public HS had challenging courses, to be sure, but they were challenging in the right way, not the "guess what part of the book is going to be taught next, and either avoid yawning or freaking out" way. It was sad that of my Catholic HS last semester's course work, music was the only class that I did decently in. Otherwise I was depressed, alone, and miserable. From beginning to end, it was pure torture. My mom, bless her heart, saw what it was doing and pretty much told the principal off. "Why spend my money to teach my son only how to be a neurotic mess?" was just one of the things I heard through the door.

    I ended up repeating math classes in the first part of those last two years – the nun who taught math the first two years I attended screwed me up so badly (she taught math *one way*, and it was your fault if you never understood it), I never really fully recovered. Odd, because I only struggled in my first six weeks or so of public HS, when they tried to force-feed me Calculus under the assumption I must have been some sort of genius for having attended the private HS. Once I got myself unscrewed, I actually caught up. I actually placed in an advanced trigonometry and statistical math course, even if I never actually learned calculus. I found a group of proto-geeks to fit into, and even managed friendly relations with the jock and wrench-turning blue-collar kids through Electronics classes, in which I had a real knack for. All of the stories about attending a public HS turned out not to be true – I was never shoved into a locker, never bullied, never treated poorly or disrespectfully. I actually had some fun. Although I carried the emotional scars from the previous two years of HS (still do), I see the last two as my only "real" HS time.

  • My cousin went to a private Catholic high school even though his family his not Catholic. I asked him why and he said that the nearby public schools were bad. I asked him what made them bad, how did he know they were bad. He said, I swear this is true, that kids there quoted Beavis and Butthead to each other.

    So I guess experiences do vary.

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