By Joe Ciccoianni, Principal, St. Norbert Catholic School     8/31/2018

I love Catholic education and our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Orange.

I attended Catholic elementary and high school. My spouse and I have both worked for Catholic schools in our diocese for the last 21 years. We pay tuition to send our two children to a Catholic school in our diocese. Simply put, I drank the Catholic school Kool-Aid years ago, and I’ve got the sticky red mustache to prove it.

What’s not to love? In the classic Catholic “both . . . and” tradition, our schools develop the mind and form the conscience. Our schools teach the history of our nation and the history of salvation. We introduce famous inventors and the Creator of all things. Our schools teach students to practice good study habits and to practice virtue. In short, our Catholic elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Orange work to build a solid foundation for our students.

The Challenge Ahead

And yet we are faced with a serious challenge, on par with the storm Jesus references in Matthew, chapter seven. Teens and young adults are leaving their faith at record rates across the country. An Internet search turns up articles describing the problem of the “nones” (those people who mark “None” when surveyed about their religious background), such as Christopher White’s “New Study Seeks to Understand Why Young People Leave the Church ,” Mark M. Gray’s “ Young People Are Leaving the Faith. Here’s Why ,” Brandon Vogt’s “ New Stats on Why Young People Leave the Church ,” and Sherry A. Weddell’s landmark book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

According to an August 2016 study by the Public Religion Research Institute and cited in Vogt’s article:

● 25% of American adults identify as “none” (no religious affiliation)

● 39% of 18-29 year olds identify as “nones”

● 64% of these “nones” were raised religious

● 79% of former Catholics leave the Church by age 23

( )

The studies cite various reasons these young adults either left the faith of their childhood for another, or left faith entirely, and they vary from the rational to the emotional. Some respondents simply lost interest, for example, while others experienced problems with doctrine. However, the one takeaway in the face of this storm is this: we can build a strong foundation that will withstand these storms.

Our schools are beacons of light for students across the Diocese of Orange. They provide a place where students are loved, respected, and treated with the dignity they deserve as children of God. We have met the challenge of incorporating technology, expanding differentiation, increasing STEM curriculum, and offering blended learning environments. Now, the challenge facing every educator in the Diocese of Orange is the creation and delivery of a faith formation program that builds a foundation strong enough to withstand the storms that are challenging the faith of young people across the nation.

In a future article I’ll explore some of the reasons young people struggle to grow into an adult faith, and I’ll discuss some methods being put forward to do so. In the meantime, we can all begin by praying for our students, our recent graduates, and their families.

For Discussion with Colleagues

● Do the statistics cited in the articles above regarding the faith of young people strike you as true? False?

● If true, describe your experience watching young people struggle to grow into an adult faith? If false, what factors seemed to contribute to the successful adoption of an adult faith?

● What was(were) the contributing factor(s) in the development of your own adult faith?

● When you consider those people you know who are between the ages of 18-29, what seems to be challenging their faith? What issues or problems are sticking points for them?


Works Cited

● White, Christopher. “New Study Seeks to Understand Why Young People Leave the Church.” ). January 17, 2018.

● Gray, Mark M. “Young People Are Leaving the Faith. Here’s Why.”

( ). August 27, 2016.

● Vogt, Brandon. “New Stats on Why Young People Leave the Church.”

( ). December 21, 2016.

● Weddell, Sherry A. Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following

Jesus ( ). 2012