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Growing phenomenon: more students in Catholic schools aren’t Catholic

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/10/15

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The Buffalo News picks up on a trend a lot of us have been noticing for a while:

In a striped bow tie and patterned dress shirt, Ryan Zuccala looks every bit the part of a Catholic prep-school student. His dark hair is neatly trimmed and combed to the side. He’s polite and respectful. He rows for the crew team and aspires to study economics at Princeton University. Like all Canisius High School students, Ryan attends Masses in the school chapel, goes on retreats and takes mandatory religion classes. He even traveled in February on a mission trip to Nicaragua to help build a church. But the 16-year-old junior from Orchard Park isn’t Catholic. He’s Jewish. And he isn’t a rarity these days. Area Catholic high schools increasingly are welcoming students from non-Catholic and non-Christian backgrounds. “I’ve learned the Our Father. I almost know the Hail Mary. I’ve learned the prayer of St. Ignatius, because we say that a lot,” Ryan said. Despite his daily immersion in Catholicism, Ryan said he remains committed to his Jewish heritage. He studied Torah as a child, celebrated his bar mitzvah a few years ago and worships in a synagogue, although not as regularly as when he was younger. About 10 percent of Canisius students were non-Catholic in 2000. Today, it’s 23 percent. The non-Catholic students include other Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. Canisius administrators expect the percentage to grow, albeit gradually, as the number of Catholics in the region continues to decline. Administrators at other area Catholic high schools also report higher percentages of non-Catholic students, especially in the past decade. Nationwide, 17 percent of Catholic high school students are not Catholic, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. High school administrators said they can’t pinpoint one reason for the increase in non-Catholic students, although the area’s growing religious diversity has had an impact.

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