“We paid to teach the children in the corner of an open corn crib”

Today, while cleaning out some files, my secretary came across a 1931 report from the National Catholic Welfare Conference (predecessor to the USCCB) on “Programs Conducted in Many Dioceses for the Instruction of Catholic Children Not in Catholic Schools.” It includes short reports from various dioceses.

The report from my diocese was written by one Very Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Cahill, the diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. Some highlights:

  • [On establishing parish catechetical programs] “At first pastors were dubious, many had territory fifteen more and less miles square; sometimes parts of three or four rural school districts were contained in one rural parish. Pastors thought children had to work in vacation, had no means of getting to the church, or would not come in. But many of them tried the plan and were surprised at success; results, more children attending Mass; taught to sing and had High Mass where it was impossible before; attendat Sacraments increased.”
  • “Most pastors prefer Sisters. We pay them $5.00 each week and all expenses. Sisters like it. Many places now have Sisters coming to the parish from a nearby school for Saturday and Sunday. This idea is growing. One pastor hired a Catholic public school teacher, paid her $50.00 a month and had classes all day for July and August. He was lukewarm at first but almost a fanatic for the work after he tried it.”
  • [On utilizing public school facilities] “The K.K.K. came out in autos and tried intimidation after the School Board refused to listen to them. We are not easily intimidated ‘out our way.’ We even got a Catholic woman teaching in this public school. We used public schools in several places; we rented houses, halls, barns, and in one place we paid to teach the children in the corner of an open corn crib.”
  • “Here is another point that may be of interest: In two country districts of this diocese the Lutherans, all farmers, have schools on their church property. When the public schools are closed, they send their children to these church schools for the remainder of the summer. If Lutherans can do that, why can’t Catholics? They will, as we found from experience, if the pastor is an energetic man, with faith in this work, with patience to begin humbly and build up year to year.”
  • “Most priests need to keep themselves better informed. They need more faith in the ability of the mustard seed to grow and become useful. This is practical work; it can be done and is being done successfully… Of course, all this means hard work, optimism, and using one’s head.”

That last part at the end, I submit, is still good advice for all of us involved in the catechetical ministry of the Church.