Thirty-five years ago, the nation's Jesuit high schools were reeling from an identity crisis. Jesuits were leaving both the schools and the Society; social action ministries seemed more relevant than teaching high school. Should the Jesuits continue to run high schools for upper- and middle-class students or focus on serving the poor?
Simultaneously, urban riots slashed enrollments at some inner-city Jesuit schools, and single-sex education seemed to some to be a chauvinistic anachronism. Replacing Jesuits with lay faculty raised tuition. Some of the nation's best Catholic high schools were in danger.
Fast-forward to 2006. The "long black line" of Jesuits is gone, with just a handful of priests and brothers remaining in most of the forty-nine American Jesuit high schools. However, the Society of Jesus is committed to its high schools, because Jesuits now realize that they provide outstanding opportunities for the spiritual formation of young people, says Fr. Ralph Metts, SJ, president of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA). AMDG still rules at today's thriving schools. Consider these developments.
- Inner-city Jesuit Cristo Rey high schools, where low-income students work for their tuition, are opening rapidly. Two were added to the network in 2006, with more planned.
- Most of the traditional Jesuit high schools are at capacity, with competitive enrollments. This includes inner-city schools once threatened with closing.
- The schools are raising at least four hundred million dollars in capital campaigns alone to upgrade campuses and enhance endowments/financial aid.
- Jesuit schools all over the country are still academically and athletically elite.
What lies behind this turnaround?
That's what I sought to discover in writing this book.
They Made All the Difference: Life-changing Stories from Jesuit High Schools by Eileen Wirth