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September 27, 2006


John Sheridan

This list seems kind of like a gimmick to me. One thing that seems a little sketchy to me is that one-third of the school's grade is the the "civic" survey in which the school administrators had to give the "correct" answer on free trade, entrepreneurship, government intervention in the private sector, etc. (Look at the website all the questions are there.)

If school adminsitrators support conserative economic theory, then does that make them better Catholic educators? I don't see the link.

Kishore Jayabalan

The Catholic High School Honor Roll is a project of the Acton Institute: http://www.acton.org/press/releases.php?release=100

Hence the economic aspect that has John Sheridan thinking of "gimmicks". It's not a gimmick, of course, to state the facts of economics. Freedom-based economics is not only the best way to help the poor, but also happens to be supported, with qualifications, by Catholic Social Doctrine (see John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus).


I would think the survey is looking for administrators to affirm the need for active goverment intervention in the economy, comprehensive welfare, wage controls, and very progressive taxation.

Supporters of conservative economic theory probably wouldn't fare well on this section.

Michael Kremer

John: You make an excellent point.

The Acton Institute claims that in their survey on Catholic social teaching "Wording for agree/disagree questions was taken directly from authoritative ecclesial documents (papal encyclicals, Catechism of the Catholic Church) or other relevant sources of Catholic social teaching. Points are given based on adherence to Church teaching on the subject." But their does seem to be some skewing of these questions in a certain direction, as you point out.

The following could also have been taken from magisterial documents and might have produced a different result:

"private ownership of property is a right which must be exercised not only for one's own personal benefit but also for the benefit of others."

"the State must do all in its power to promote the production of a sufficient supply of material goods"

"It is the duty of the State to ensure that terms of employment are regulated in accordance with justice and equity, and to safeguard the human dignity of workers by making sure that they are not required to work in an environment which may prove harmful to their material and spiritual interests."

"Unrestricted competition in the liberal sense is clearly contrary to Christian teaching and the nature of man."

"the worker has a natural right to enter into association with his fellows."

These are all taken almost verbatim from John XXIII's encyclical Mater et Magistra.

Of course, I have cherry-picked these too, leaving out the reference to Marxist class warfare in the quote about unrestricted competition, for example. But the point is that the Acton Institute's quotes are also one-sided in their representation of Catholic social teaching, even if they are all based on words taken from magisterial documents.

Michael Kremer

Kishore Jabayalan: What do you mean by "freedom based economics" and does this include all of the following (as suggested by the encyclical Mater et Magister from which I have quoted above)?

*State intervention in the economy to ensure production and distribution of necessities

*State regulation of the workplace to ensure justice and equity as well as workplace safety

*restrictions on competition

*protection of the right of workers to form associations


We're not on the list, nor is any other Catholic high school in the DC metropolitan area.

Kishore Jayabalan

In Catholic social teaching, there is a concept known as "the development of doctrine".

For whatever state interventions Mater et Magister may have proposed, the encyclical was published in 1961. The Catholic Church's understanding of economics and the free society had developed quite substantially by 1991, when Centesimus Annus was published and by which time the failures of "real socialism" were more apparent.

I really don't like pulling quotes from papal encyclicals to prove my point, but here are a few from Centesimus Annus:

"The free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs." (n. 34)

"The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied." (n. 35)

"If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy"." (n. 42)

Sections 44-52 of Centesimus Annus offer a critique of the over-bearing State.

And more recently, Pope Benedict XVI has written about the role of limited government in his first encylical, Deus Caritas Est.

The Church has learned a lot about economics since 1961 by applying its eternal principles to the changing circumstances, the new things (rerum novarum), of the day.


I would take this "Top 50" list with a grain of salt.

While it's perhaps a noble idea, the "small print" on the website makes it clear that "nearly 1,300" Catholic high schools were invited to apply for consideration (by filling out surveys and returning them to this group). Out of those ~1,300, "nearly 300" (i.e., less than 25%) actually applied.

If you're favorite school isn't listed, the most likely explanation is that they didn't apply.

So, congratulations to the winners -- but those not on the list aren't necessarily losers. You can't win or lose if you don't play the game.

Jenny Woo

Mt. deSales Academy is on there- located in Baltimore which, whether we like it or not, has become part of the "D.C. metropolitan area". ;)


Yay! Our Pius X High School here in Lincoln made it. It's a really good school with high academic success (av. ACT score of 24, most kids go to college, etc.) and a good number of vocations to the priesthood & religious life -- I think among our seminarians here, 10 are Pius X graduates, and there are 5 women Pius X alumni in formation for the religious life right now -- not to mention the priests and sisters already serving.

Pius X is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year:



It's a really good school with high academic success (av. ACT score of 24, most kids go to college, etc.)

What about the kids for whom it is obvious, even before high school, that they are not college material. Is there a place in the school for them?

c matt

Curious that the two Jesuit high schools I know of in Texas were not on the list, and considered by most in Tx to be of the highest academic caliber of all schools, public or private. But, as someone pointed out, they may simply have felt no need to respond.


The website has the "top 50" for three years: 2006, 2005 and 2004. For the one state I checked, California, the list changes almost completely each year. This makes the lists highly suspect in my opinion. Is it really likely that the quality of schools changes each year such that the best schools in one year are not the best schools in other years?

Michael Kremer

Kishore Jayabalan,

You haven't told me what your "point" is. My point -- and I think that Centesimus Annus would support this -- is the limited one (not an argument for the abolition of profit-driven economics or for some form of state socialism) that the Church's teaching recognizes a role for the state in reigning in the excesses of unbridled capitalism, regulating the economy, and so on. I am not sure how much of this is allowed within your "freedom-based economics." I am not talking about the welfare state criticized in Centesimus Annus when I talk about such things as workplace safety regulations and a protection of the right to collective bargaining.


What about the kids for whom it is obvious, even before high school, that they are not college material. Is there a place in the school for them?

Yes, most definitely. There is no "entrance exam" to get into Pius X. The students there have the same span of studiousness or intelligence or however you want to quantify it as the public schools.

Pius X does not turn ANY Catholic student away -- even economics is not a factor in this. Tuition is around $1,500 per year for each student; the rest is subsidized by contributions from each of the 14 parishes served by the school and income from an endowment fund. And if the famiuly can't come up with the $1,500, there are scholarships and grants. Even the teachers at the school will buy book bags and supplies so that a kid who doesn't have enough $$$ can go there.

You don't have to be rich or smart or from a certain parish or community to go to Pius X -- they will take any Catholic student, no matter what.

Kishore Jayabalan

Ok, Michael Kremer, I'll spell it out as simply as I can: an economic system based on the free actions of free human beings is superior to one based on the command and control of production, distribution and consumption (i.e., socialism). It is superior both by economic standards and by the demands of human dignity.

I shouldn't need to say that "superior" does not mean "perfect". Of course there's a role for the State, but it is a limited one that does not presume to know better than the people it serves.

If you can't understand this, I'll put it even more bluntly: an economic system based on freedom serves human liberty, an economic system based on command and control does not. Centesimus Annus clearly recognizes this. If you can't tell the difference between economic systems, I'd recommend a trip to Cuba or North Korea.

My point is that for too long, Catholic social teaching did not fully appreciate the economic arguments in favor of capitalism. The argument has not been "skewed" by the Acton Institute. (Incidentally, I worked for the Holy See Mission at the United Nations and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, so I know something about all this.)

At this point in history, the argument has largely been settled, at least by economists, and the Church's understanding of the issue has caught up. If you read Mater et Magister followed by Centesimus Annus and Deus Caritas Est, the development of doctrine is obvious. Thankfully, Catholic social doctrine is not mired in the 1960s.

Anthony Pienta

Having worked on the Honor Roll project for some time, there are a few things I can help clarify.

First, there is no gimmick for the Honor Roll. There is no cost for schools to participate and there is no $50 "Who's who" book.

Second, many people think the Honor Roll is an "academic-only" competition for Catholic schools. That misses the point completely. The Honor Roll does measure academics, but it also measures Catholic identity and civic education. No other evaluation systems do this type of balanced evaluation of Catholic schools. This is probably why some academic powerhouse schools do not make the top 50, because their scores are weaker with the other criteria.

Third, changes in the schools listed each year can be attributed to a few things. For one, the Honor roll has gained more recognition each year and with it more schools decide to submit applications. With this tight competitive environment, small changes in one area or another can move a school 20-30 places. Also, the surveys and evaluation techniques are improved each year, which leads to a more accurate measure of each criterion. Surveys from each year are posted on the website.

Ultimately we cannot force schools to participate, and it is the decision of a school's administration if they want to be evaluated with this method. Schools that do not apply typically say they don't think they would ever place in the top 50 or they don't agree with the evaluation criteria (usually that Catholic identity is being measured).

I hope this helps clarify.


c matt, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston was listed in the top-25 in the category of academic excellence.

Therese Z

My alma mater isn't on it; that makes me trust it a little more, since sadly they've gone Gaia-earth-mother-social-justice nuts (the bad kind of Dominicans).

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