In the United States, St. Patrick’s Day marks opportunity to not only celebrate the heroic saint but also the achievements of the large wave of Irish immigrants who helped shape the nation’s history and culture. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn said that in the midst of this well-meaning celebration of Irish assimilation, we must recognize the enormous achievement of Catholic schools so as to continue their legacy of serving immigrant groups. “The rise of a Catholic school system, in short, was an American achievement – the more stunning because it was pulled off by a poor, immigrant people,” McGurn wrote March 17. In his article, “Feliz Día de San Patricio,” McGurn took St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to encourage support of Catholic schools in their service to Latinos, whom he says can benefit from them just as the Irish did. He spoke with Fr. Timothy Scully of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education about the ongoing necessity of Catholic schools for immigrants. “On St. Patrick’s Day we celebrate the mutual blessings that America was for the Irish and the Irish were for America,” Fr. Scully told McGurn. “We believe one day the same will be said of Latinos now arriving on our shores. At least if the Catholic schools have anything to do with it.” McGurn said that the Dream Act has dominated the conversation about Latinos and education, but that a larger issue exists. Less than one fifth of Latino high school students are considered “college ready” and only about half graduate from high school in the allotted four years. “So what kind of dream is it to design programs geared to college when most Latino kids are written off before they can even start?” he asked. Enter American Catholic schools. Set up as an alternative to Protestant schools, the Catholic school system served as a stepping stone to assimilation for immigrants, rather than being a stumbling block as many had feared. Now Catholic schools can once again help immigrants take their place in American society, especially if they work to embrace Latinos. Even though Latinos who attend Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school, only three percent make up Catholic school students, according to Notre Dame’s Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools. “Put it this way: Is it really all that hard to believe that a Latino schoolgirl might be more comfortable mastering English and embracing American culture if she is learning in a school where she sees, say, a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe – patroness of all the Americas – hanging on the wall?” McGurn asked.
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