Northwest Catholic High School President Christian Cashman spoke at the September’s Men’s Breakfast at McAuley, an active senior living community in West Hartford. On September 25, 2019, Cashman enjoyed breakfast with the men of McAuley, before speaking to both men and women about Catholic education in this country, and specifically in Connecticut.
Cashman began his lecture by asking the audience how many of them sent their children to Northwest Catholic, and several hands went up. Then he asked how many of them sent their children to any Catholic school. More hands went up. When he asked the crowd how many of them went to Catholic school, the number of hands doubled.
Cashman reminisced about the heyday of Catholic schools, when families with an average of five children — an average, Cashman repeated — sent all their children to Catholic school.
Cashman then described the precipitous drop in Catholic school enrollment and offered analysis of the trend. He gave staggering numbers of the steep decline in number of Catholic schools and Catholic schoolchildren. In the 1960s there were some 5.2 million Catholic school children in the U.S. By 1990 that number had halved to 2.5 million. Today, Cashman said, only 1.7 million students attend Catholic schools.
Equally alarming to Cashman is the closing of Catholic schools. When his audience members were sending their own children to Catholic schools in the 1960s and 1970s, there were approximately 13,000 in the country. Today there are only 6,289 Catholic schools. Cashman said, “Catholic schools are closing faster than they are consolidating or opening.” He went on, “And the hardest hit are Catholic grammar schools.”
Cashman spoke of the growing group of religiously unaffiliated — the “nones,” the competition from public and private schools, and the perception of Catholic schools being slow to innovate. And if all these colliding factors weren’t challenge enough, Cashman told his audience that Connecticut’s low birthrate, second only to Mississippi, and its exodus of Generation X and Y, who are heading to states such as North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, are leaving Catholic schools in jeopardy.
But Cashman was also full of hope. He told his own story of a life committed to Catholic education. Educated at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Cashman studied the Jesuit tradition, then made Catholic education his life’s work. He shares this passion with his wife Janet Cashman, who is currently the vice principal of St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hartford. The Cashmans have sent all four of their sons to Catholic elementary, middle, and high school. Their older two sons have attended Jesuit universities, and their two younger sons are students at Northwest Catholic. All of this was to say Cashman is all in. He believes fervently in Catholic education and its ability to transform the lives of its students and the millions of lives its graduates touch.
Cashman’s talk wasn’t a recruitment pitch for Northwest Catholic — his audience’s children were well passed their high school days. But his speech was to inform the crowd of the power of Catholic education and its mission teach the next generation of academically excellent, faithful, respectful, servant leaders. The talk was also to explain that Catholic schools need support.
In 1975 tuition at Northwest Catholic was less than $700 a year, Cashman told his audience. Today tuition is $15,300.
Women religious and priests who taught in the 1960s and 1970s for only a stipend have been succeeded by dedicated laypeople, affecting the economics of running a Catholic school. Expenses in all areas of school maintenance and growth continue their meteoric rise. At the same time, Catholic schools remain committed to meeting families’ financial need. And everything at Northwest Catholic — every brick, every light, every desk — is the result of a gift from a committed parent, grandparent, or friend.
After his talk, Cashman took questions from his audience. One audience member asked about the tug between conservatism and liberalism, and Cashman explained that although Catholic schools cannot heal all divides, Catholic schools do bring unity. The Catholic liberal arts tradition teaches the integration of faith, reason, and respect, and he explained how Catholic schools bridge gaps and mitigate polarization. A second audience member asked about new governance structures that could lead Catholic schools into the future, and a third simply wanted to point out that Cashman’s first name seemed quite fitting considering his vocation.
Christian Cashman was honored to be a guest speaker at this special monthly event. He said, “It’s always nice to speak with people who take the long view, who are living history, and who understand what the future requires of us.” Cashman went on, “Many McAuley residents sent their children to Northwest Catholic, and I want to honor them and their commitment to us.” Cashman concluded, “They want to see us thrive.”