Friday, March 24, 2017

Did A Notre Dame Study Really Close McBride HS?

Don't let it be forgot 
that once there was a spot 
for one brief shining moment 
that was known as Camelot.**

This is the third of several occasional articles on McBride High School: its history, its closing and its impact on the St. Louis area and beyond. This article explores the decision to close McBride High School, including issues impacting the school, media coverage of the closing, and reactions to Archdiocese’s largely unpopular decision to close McBride High School. Richard Ganahl, Class 1969 
Photo By Richard C. Finke Courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives
McBride High School opened on No. Kingshighway on Jan. 5, 1925 and closed on June 1971. McBride HS is the direct descendent of the original Catholic school for boys est. in 1911. 
            The death verdict for McBride High School, though dreaded for some time, was swift and irrevocable. “Students now attending the boy’s school will be absorbed next year by the seven other (Catholic) high schools,” reported the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on Thursday, Jan. 27, 1971, just one day after the official archdiocesan announcement by Msgr. Joseph Curtin, spokesperson for Archbishop Cardinal John J. Carberry.
            The Christmas break for McBride students, families and friends must have been especially angst-filled. Barely a month earlier, the St. Louis G-D reported on Christmas Day that any decision about McBride’s future depended on the study of a ‘report compiled by a Notre Dame University research team.’
            McBride Principal Rev. Paul Ryan worried in the article, “We’re all in financial difficulties, trying to keep things going with rising costs of everything.” 
            The Notre Dame study concluded Catholic education could ‘become a rich man’s
Courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives
Many Micks depended on Bi-State Bus.
luxury’ as enrollment in St. Louis Catholic schools had declined 19 per cent since 1964. McBride had 473 students in 1970, a drop of 157 students from 1968. There were 84 students in the freshman class, and the 31 teachers was four less than the year earlier. Tuition was $300 per year ($1,820 in 2017 dollars) for underclassman and $320 for seniors after a $100 increase over the last two years.
            Still, many held hope that McBride’s 60-year tradition of academic and sports excellence for Catholic boys from any part of the St. Louis area would fuel a rescue of some sort. After all, didn’t more than 1,000 attend McBride in several shifts the two years after World War II? Hadn’t 13,000 plus young Catholic men graduated from McBride? And, didn’t more than 95 per cent of its current students attend college (about 33 per cent on merit-based scholarships)?
            Everyone understood McBride was the anti-thesis of a ‘rich man’s luxury.’ Shouldn’t it be spared? Of course. Its promise of a Catholic education for qualified, A-track major learners from any part of the St. Louis area, regardless of financial resources, would be its salvation.
            Or would it?
            The Archdiocese’s stark announcement seemed unnecessarily swift and particularly calculating at McBride’s school-wide assembly held in ‘snake pit’ gym on that cold and cloudy Friday, January 28 morning.
            Then senior Dick Zerega class of 1971 remembers, “During lunchtime on the day McBride's closing was announced…I was standing by the front doors near the principal office. I opened the door for Monsignor Curtain (sic), how ironic a name, who headed Archdiocesan Schools. He asked me how to get to the library (for a) faculty meeting…I vividly remember going into gym after the PA announcement. One look at the stunned look on the teachers’ faces confirmed that McBride was closing. I wished I hadn't let Monsignor Curtain (sic) into the school. I felt horrible for playing even a tiny part in the sad events of the day.”
            “The entire school was in the gym,” Gary Lake class of 1971 recalls, “and a representative of the archdiocese was there to make the formal announcement of the closing. He was completely shouted down with "WE ARE...............MC BRIDE".  (It) seemed to go on forever.”
            Brother Delmar Jorn, SM, McBride librarian for the preceding 10 years, was especially touched. “It’s not just losing the kids themselves, but all the labor I’ve put in the room, and to see it scattered to the four winds. It’s hard to take,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on January 28, 1971.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
            Some students sought to stop the decision. “A group of us (went) to the police headquarters downtown, to apply for a permit to have a demonstration march from McBride to the Chancery office.  The concept was to carry a coffin of McBride High School from the school to the Chancery, in hopes of gaining attention and possible financial support. (Later) it was made very clear to me if I wanted to graduate from McBride, the march would not take place. That is where it ended,” said Ben Caffe class of 1971.
            The St. Louis P-D reported on May 27, 1971 that a group of about 35 McBride students ‘chanted and waved signs yesterday outside the archdiocesean (sic) office.’ Vice president of the student council and the group’s spokesman Roy Fields said the students objected to the archdiocese contributing $150,000 for a swimming pool at Kennedy High School ‘when the money could have been used to prevent closing of McBride.’
            Some McBride graduates also disagreed with the decision. Robert J. Byrne, a staff writer for the Archdiocese’s St. Louis Review newspaper reported that Denny Newport, a 1970 graduate and former student council president ‘feels a little hurt at what many view as the euthanasia of their alma mater.
            Newport said, “For a school that was supposed to offer the best education in the archdiocesan system, I don’t see how they can just let it go. I don’t wish to begrudge them Kennedy High School, but if there was money for that, why not for McBride?”
            And Mike Garanzini, a 1967 graduate, former student council president and now Rev. Garanzini, S.J. and chancellor of Loyola University Chicago, was more direct in his assessment. Byrne reported he ‘feels McBride was allowed to sink too easily.’
            Garanzini said, “It appears that very few efforts were made to save the school by calling on alumni or by recruiting students. As an alumnus, I have never been asked to help out, even financially.”  
            What happened to McBride High School? How did the unimaginable so quickly become the new reality? How did the study conducted by a Notre Dame University research team affect McBride High School? What other economic and sociological forces were in play?
            Cardinal Carberry announced ‘on June 13, 1968…that an in-depth professional research study of Catholic education in the Archdiocese’ would be undertaken.’ Completed some two years later, the research study was released as ‘Catholic Education in St. Louis.’ It was this study that provided the rationale for the closing of McBride three years later in the summer of 1971.
            Two research offices were contracted for the study. The Center for Urban Programs
McBride March Protest
at Saint Louis University completed an analysis of relevant demographic and economic indicators. The Office for Educational Research and the Economics Department at the University of Notre Dame, IN conducted the study’s remaining aspects. Rev. John N. Wurm of the Archdiocese of St. Louis served as the study’s deputy director, and Frank J. Fahey of UND’s Office of Educational Research served as the project director.
            The 78-page ‘A Summary Report of Catholic Education in St. Louis lists 12 ‘major researchers’ for the project. Participants from the UND Economics department included: Fr. Ernest J. Bartell, Chair, Kenneth M. Brown, Dennis J. Dugan and Thomas R. Swartz. Participants from the UND Office for Educational Research included: Robert L. Lovely, and Richard G. Kiekbusch. Arthur J. Corazzini of the Department of Economics at Tufts University is listed also.
            Multiple attempts to contact these researchers through emails and phone calls were mostly unsuccessful. Richard Kiekbusch said in a phone interview, “I have only very vague memories of the (47-year-old) study. I just can’t remember any of the details.” Fr. Ernie Bartell wished me well on my ‘worthy project,’ but, “although I recall the St. Louis project and was a minor contributor to it, today, at age 85 I frankly do not remember anything substantive about it.”
            The research findings were initially evaluated by an Ad Hoc Committee which made recommendations ‘for the improvement of Catholic education’ to the full Archdiocesan School Board. The Board’s final recommendations were sent to Cardinal Carberry for ‘his decision respective to implementation and action.’
            More than 50,000 questionnaires were mailed to four distinct Catholic groups including adult lay Catholics and parents with school age children, Catholic school teachers, Archdiocesan clergy ‘entrusted with the spiritual care of Catholics,’ and students of parochial and parish religion schools (CCD). 
            A total of nearly 3,000 eighth and 12 grade parochial students, and 381 CCD students were randomly selected through an interval sampling technique that included 41 elementary Catholic schools (17 in county, 13 in city and 11 in rural).
            The students were administered the Inventory of Catholic School Outcomes (ISCO) developed by UND in 1965. The ISCO measured three distinct areas: religious interest including the students’ specific knowledge and understanding of their religion, their attitudes

St. Louis Review Article by Robert J. Byrne
about certain religious issues, and their opinions about religion and education in general.
            The study established the efficacy of Catholic instruction and concluded, ‘that our students have a reasonable understanding of their faith. The seniors in Catholic high schools show the greatest understanding of their faith of all groups.’
            Most of the student respondents were either 13 or 17-years-old. Only 3 percent reported s/he was an only child, 47 percent had three or less siblings and 48 percent had more than three siblings. The students academically ranked themselves as 12 percent A students, 41 percent B students, 42 percent C students and 3 percent D students.  
            Regarding career goals, almost 75 percent sought as a first choice, ‘a career in which they could be creative and original, work with people rather than things, and be helpful to those in need. Only 19 percent wanted as a first choice careers in which they could earn a good deal of money.’
            Clearly, the St. Louis Catholic education system had a significant impact.

            The world was changing in the 1960s, and so were Catholic schools. The Notre Dame study’s recommendations were unambiguous: “expansion…is of course out of the question, and…methods of orderly and efficient consolidations should be planned.’ (The emphasis on orderly is mine.)
            Enrollment had declined from a high of 94,700 students in peak years of 1955-1961 to 70,900 in 1969. In the five-year period of 1964 to 1969, enrollment declined 19 percent overall and 37 percent in the city.
            The study predicted ‘a dramatic decline in enrollment’ of 39 percent by 1975 to
Courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives
The Wm. C. McBride estate gave an endowment for the school. 
43,500 students. This meant enrollment would continue to decline by 6 to 7 percent a year. Out migration, or ‘moving to the suburbs and beyond,’ was listed as the primary cause of the city’s enrollment decline.
            Other factors driving the enrollment declines included the significant decrease in school age children and the ‘strong trend away’ from Catholic schools to publicly supported public schools. 
            Not only was enrollment expected to decline, ‘a study of the 22 religious communities’ staffing the Catholic schools predicted the dramatic decrease of religious teachers by 40 percent in 1975 increasing the numbers of required lay faculty. This and the emphasis to lower pupil-teacher ratios from the then current 32 to 1 ratio to the recommended 25 to 1 ratio would add significant salary increases.
            Financial pressures also impacted Catholic schools. The St. Louis P-D’s Jan. 28 article reported Msgr. Curtin claimed ‘the schools have lost nearly $2 million a year for the last three years.’ McBride’s $100,000 annual deficit in 1970 was five percent of that year’s total $1.8 million high school deficit.
            Finally, what role did McBride’s location play in its demise? The Archdiocese’s newspaper the St. Louis Review reported in its initial announcement about McBride’s closing that, ‘Msgr. Curtin denied that the North Kingshighway neighborhood or a fear of physical assaults was a factor in the enrollment decline. “I can’t say that was a factor; it was never mentioned (by parents) as a deterrent,” he said.’
            However, the St. Louis P-D reported McBride Principal Fr. Ryan and Msgr. Curtin, ‘admitted that many parents appeared reluctant to send their sons to school in a virtually all-black neighborhood with a high crime rate.’
            Fr. Ryan was more explicit in his interview with Byrne of the St. Louis Review. Byrne reported Fr. Ryan felt ‘it is this-fear of trouble-of incidents of one kind or another-that has brought the flagship of the archdiocesan high school system to the end of the line.’
            “I have to say that there is a fear of the city that has built up in the minds of suburban people,” (Fr. Ryan) explained. “Parents have told me they didn’t feel safe in allowing their sons to come here.” He went on to say, ‘that this fear is out of proportion to the reality.’   
            Fr. Ryan waxed philosophical when the reporter Byrne asked about the most significant feature of McBride. Listen to Byrne tell the story. ‘Fr. Ryan relit the now small stub of his cigar and paused thoughtfully.
            “I think the most important thing about McBride has been the boys’ respectful outspokenness. They have a freedom and a habit of saying ‘I don’t like this,’ but also of listening to what you have to say.
            “New teachers coming here have been taken aback somewhat by the student’s frankness, but they come to love it after the surprise wears off.
            “I’ve been in teaching now for about 25 years, and nowhere but McBride have I
 Courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives
Fr. Ryan served McBride HS from 1964-1971.
found that frank openness, a sort of strong-chestedness, if you can call it that. And while I can’t predict the future, I have a feeling it will be a long time before I find another school that has it.”
            For Fr. Ryan, the McBride dream died hard. While closing McBride was not his decision he, “personally agree(d) that it was the right one. I think it was inevitable, and I don’t see that anything else could have been done. There is no future for the school here,” he decided in resignation.  
            And me? The dream still lingers. Sometimes it looms large in my life. McBride dared me to be different, and ultimately I was. I entered as a young, naive, white boy from the lower-middle class suburbs, and left tested and tempered by the complications of a racially divided city. Many others were also made different by the experience. McBride helped A-track boys become A-track men.
            I have never thought that closing McBride was the right decision.
            Now, I don’t hold the Notre Dame researchers responsible, and I don’t blame the ‘virtually all-black neighborhood with (the) high crime rate’ for McBride’s closing. Both of them, like me, were only reflections of a tumultuous time that grew increasingly turbulent. Just think about those times.
            Remember how millions mourned two of our nation’s most inspiring leaders who were assassinated within months of each other in 1968? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on April 2 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot on June 6 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
            Remember the more than 549,000 American soldiers who fought in Viet Nam in 1968? More than 48,000, many not much older than myself at the time, were killed in combat during a four-year period between 1967-1971. In response to the carnage, over 10,000 anti-war protesters converged on the Democratic Party’s Chicago National Convention in August 1968 battling police and National Guardsmen.
            Remember the more than 400,000 music loving, pot smoking, merry makers who gathered in August 1969 at a rain-soaked, mud-flooded dairy farm in White Lake, NY to celebrate life and fun at the Woodstock Music Festival?          
            And finally, closer to home, remember how the City of St. Louis couldn’t stem the outflow of citizens as almost 50 percent of its population, or more than 400,000 (largely white) residents left the city (and their largely black, north St. Louis neighbors) to resettle in the suburbs and beyond?  
            Certainly, it’s easy to hold Cardinal Carberry and the School Board responsible for the closing of McBride High School. They acted in total isolation and completely ignored the greater McBride community in the process. They were too timid, and reacted too late to the deteriorating crisis. Their decision to abandon McBride was anything but orderly, and lacked the moral courage to do the right thing. Still, they too were only reflecting the time’s knee-jerk reactions.
            In the end, I think Fr. Ryan got it right. Ultimately it was, “a fear of the city…that…(was) out of proportion to the reality,’ that doomed McBride. This overwhelming fear trapped the city in a ‘fight or flight’ quagmire, and flight won. It’s a fear not much different from the ‘out of proportion’ fears driving some of today’s actions.             
            Think about it. We Micks were the city’s only inward-bounders! While everyone else was leaving the city, we young Catholic boys kept coming into the city, day after day, to live the McBride dare. We believed. And, we lived our beliefs every day.
            I’m no fool, and I know the decision to keep McBride open would have been fragile, frightful, and fraught with all sorts of failures. Still, the chance to keep the McBride dream alive while working toward racial harmony deserved a fighting chance and adequate funding. McBride High School offered the right place at the right time to take a stand and build a religious-based, civic-corporate partnership to save the city and restore harmony.
           Even today, when I meet an African-American in St. Louis of a certain age and tell them I graduated from McBride, I know they know. There’s an undeniable sense of respect, and an unspoken understanding between us. You know what I mean, Micks. We held our ground.
            Some day, no one will remain that lived the McBride dare. There will be no one with any direct memory of the McBride dream. That makes me sad. Young people of all genders, races and nations deserve a shot at the McBride dare. Dreams die hard.

I am grateful to Eric Fair, Rena Schergen and Eric Holt of the St. Louis Archdiocese Archives. Their patience, guidance and support have been invaluable in this project. I am also grateful to Dennis Ganahl '71 and Ben Caffe '71 for their valuable contributions to this story. We are an amazingly complex combination of our cultural and historical heritage. Embrace your past and fearlessly discover your future. Find out why you are who you are. Send your stories about McBride’s history to me at Thanks!

This article and its contents are Copyrighted 2017 by Richard J. Ganahl III

** Alone on the stage of the musical ‘Camelot,’ King Arthur realizes his dreams for his beloved Camelot are no more. Richard Burton played King Arthur opposite Julie Andrews' Queen Guenevere in the original 1960 production. The Broadway musical was President John F. Kennedy’s favorite and he played the soundtrack often in their personal quarters at the White House.