Brian Mershon
Catholic homeschooling, Catholic education & charges of elitism and no vocations
By Brian Mershon
January 12, 2012

Many of you interested in the subject matter of Catholic homeschooling have probably read a recent Our Sunday Visitor story quoting a once-prominent and well-known priest of the "reform of reform" liturgical stripe who recently denigrated Catholic homeschool families again.

The gist of Father's argument was that Catholic homeschool families are "elitist" and set up their own schools counter to their respective pastors, and in the end, do not really produce vocations to the priesthood or religious life, due presumably, to the supposedly negative and judgmental attitudes of the parents and those other families with whom they associate.

Where do we begin? Let's go back to the basics.

There are many reasons that Catholic parents are increasingly deciding to take the full responsibility for educating their children under their wings in their own homes. For the sake of this article though, I'm going to speak strictly from my own family's experience, so this will not be a sociologically scientific response (if those two words can even be juxtaposed validly), but merely an anecdotal and personal one that I believe may be consistent with many readers own reasons — although not exhaustive. There are as many good reasons to choose Catholic education in the home as there are Catholic families.

My wife and I have been homeschooling our seven children for 18 years now — with her carrying the bulk of the responsibility and my role increasing as my children enter high school. We moved to the heart of the Bible Belt in Greenville, S.C., in 1993 and our first son attended government schools in the north suburbs of Chicago (academically very good) and for four years in Greenville, S.C. (academically very poor). We had never even heard of homeschooling prior to the mid-1990s, and at the time were seriously considering sending our soon-to-be first grade daughter to one of the area Catholic parish schools. A providential telephone call from a then-stranger who was attending a small Catholic liberal arts college that we had never heard of in Front Royal, Virginia, soon changed that.

For background, my wife and I were raised primarily in a small farm town in north central Illinois and attended government schools through high school because the lone Catholic school taught by nuns closed down in the 1970s due to the lack of vocations that ensued directly following the close of the sacrosanct Second Vatican Council. [1] My wife attended two different women Catholic boarding schools her freshman and sophomore years of high school, but eventually returned home to her local government school after extremely negative experiences in both places. After all, in 1979, the mythical "spirit of Vatican II"[2] was blowing its gale full force throughout the Church in North America at that time destroying nearly everything in its path. We also both attended Sunday Mass regularly with our families and attended the banners and butterflies Kumbaya religious education classes that were the rave of the 1970s and '80s as those in the Church "rediscovered" themselves at our generation's expense. Oh. I almost forgot. The nun sat next to the priest and gave the homilies and my wife was an altar girl and wore a gawdy blue cape. My four brothers and I were never altar boys. We were never asked to be by anyone. Ever.

Fast forward. Moving to Greenville, S.C., in 1993 was a culture shock for both of us, but the most strange experiences occurred when total strangers at the grocery stores, at gymnastics practice, at baseball games and at our front door repeatedly engaged us in discussions about our Faith and "what church we attended." Then, we were nominal Catholics. Yes, while we only occasionally missed Mass growing up, but had only gone to confession once or twice (in my case) in 30 years and never once heard the concept of mortal sin in all of our years of catechesis and attending Holy Mass.

So the repeated challenges of the evangelicals, fundamentalists and Bible-believing Christians inspired us to learn about our Catholic Faith. That, going to confession for the first time in 15 years and reading Mary Kay Clark's Catholic Home Schooling, coupled with the 3-hour telephone call from the frosh from Christendom College, who called me to inquire about the liturgical nightmare at our local parish, exposed us first to the Catholic homeschooling movement.

Our choice between sending our 5-year-old daughter to either Catholic parish schools or to homeschool back in the mid-'90s was clarified affirmatively by the following factors.
  1. One of the Catholic schools said it was "too late" for our 7th grade son and that our daughter would be on a long waiting list since we were new and not parishioners. How welcoming!

  2. The other parish school option had considerably lower tuition (this once two-income family in the north Chicago suburbs became a one-income family by design when moving to the South so mother could raise her two children), but the academic curriculum was nearly identical to the government school one we had experienced and there was nothing uniquely Catholic about it other than religion was taught periodically, but not daily. The Catholic Faith certainly did not permeate the entire curriculum and Mass (Novus Ordo, but we didn't differentiate back then) was offered only once per week for the students.

  3. The same "other" parish school had all Catholic teachers except, you guessed it, the first grade teacher who would be teaching my rising first grader. Same government curriculum, nominal Catholic doctrine taught and lived through the liturgy all taught by a non-Catholic teacher. Sounds exactly like something my then 52 percent lower family income should contribute $3,000 toward. What a deal! (Sarcasm ON from here on — in select places)

  4. Finally, the deadline of the day we were supposed to decide whether to sign up for the parish school, I was laid off from my job. Thank you Holy Ghost! Might I have another?
So, looking back on things after homeschooling all seven (with the exception of sending our oldest son to the local independent Catholic school for his sophomore through senior years), does the first decision made when we were nearly 30 years still hold up now that we're 47 and our eldest daughter will, by God's grace, complete her senior year at that very same Catholic liberal arts college that was attended by God's messenger who called us out of the blue back in the mid-'90s and helped introduce us to Catholic homeschooling?

We'll evaluate in the next issue.


[1]  Note that the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators by Kenneth Jones cites that more than 80,000 women religious abandoned their vocations from 1965 to 2002.

[2]  Perhaps the "spirit" of the angel dressed in white who mimics the authentic angels?

© Brian Mershon


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