In 1965, roughly half of all Catholic families sent their children to Catholic schools. Today, that number is closer to just 15-percent.
The decline has the largest private school system in the world looking for a way to re-invent itself.
Right now, six Catholic schools in Fort Wayne face the threat of closure or consolidation. The Bishop is said to be about a month or so away from a final decision.
The same Bishop has had to close two schools in the South Bend area since 2005.
Today, at Our Lady of Hungary School in South Bend, spirits were high as students prayed before lunch, but enrollments have fluctuated greatly from year to year.
“Constantly, that’s my number one worry, worry about not having enough [students],” said Our Lady of Hungary Principal Clem Wroblewski.
Wroblewski is not only the principal at the modest west-side school, he’s a teacher, the maintenance man, and even a crossing guard.
He knows that this year his entire fourth grade class consists of just 10 students, although enrollment overall has been worse.
"Our enrollment this year is 132,” said Wroblewski, “last year we had 121, the year before, 100, and the year before, we had 80."
It’s a common problem across the nation, and for some the desperate times demand desperate measures.
"I point to, for example, the diocese of Wichita, Kansas. They have adopted a stewardship model, where in the diocese if you have a child who is school aged and wishes to attend the Catholic school, that child attends for free,” said Rev. Timothy R. Scully, C.S.C., with the University of Notre Dame. “The tuition, if you will, is absorbed by this tithing diocesan wide.”
Along those lines, the fight for Catholic school survival has inspired Notre Dame to partner with three inner city schools across the U.S.
"And those schools are intervention models where we attempt to basically take the responsibility of much of the fundraising, leadership of the curriculum, the teacher development, and we focus our energies and our expertise in those areas,” Scully said.
While the times have been tough on Catholic schools, some believe the system may be in the right place, at the right time.
“I do think that whatever you might think about other dimensions of President Obama’s message,” said Rev. Scully, “I think that he brings an emphasis on volunteerism, on rethinking traditional practices on hope, and on education in ways that we haven’t heard in a long time."