LOS ANGELES ( - Enrollment in Catholic schools increased for the sixth consecutive time during the 1997-98 school year and 155 news schools have opened in the past 12 years, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) announced on Tuesday.

      The group representing 200,000 Catholic teachers throughout the US said 3,400 new students enrolled in Catholic schools this year, bringing the total number to 2,648,859, and increase of about 81,000 since 1992. "What is compelling about these numbers is that no matter what popular polls may seem to say, people are concerned about character. Parents want their children to grow into adults with strong moral values. That's what Catholic schools deliver and that's why more families are enrolling," said Dr. Leonard DeFiore, president of the NCEA. The group is holding its annual convention in Los Angeles this week.

      The NCEA added that increased enrollment means many families are making big sacrifices to provide Catholic education for their children. "Our enrollment growth carries with it a compelling case for supporting educational choice in this country," said Michael Guerra, head of the NCEA Secondary Schools Department. "With tuition increasing in some areas, families with modest incomes are making tremendous sacrifices to choose Catholic schools for their children." He added that the NCEA is concerned that many families cannot exercise their right to choose religious schools because of financial pressures.

      DeFiore added that 155 new Catholic schools during the past 12 years, bringing the total to 8,223 nationwide, is encouraging, but said more are needed. "The bottom line is: we need more Catholic schools. Parents are choosing them and bishops are committed to providing a Catholic education for every Catholic family who wants one," said DeFiore. "The end result should be a building boom for Catholic schools."

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April 16, 1998 volume 9, no. 74         DAILY CATHOLIC