Administrative history of cultural and professional changes in elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 1955-1980

Mark Thomas Joerres, Marquette University


The purpose of this qualitative research was to represent and interpret the records and memories of the Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during the period 1955-1980. The compilation and reporting of data involved straightforward historical analysis from available resources. Specifically, the study focused on several interactive variables: the sudden expansion and later rapid decline of Catholic elementary student enrollment; the transition from a predominantly religious staff to a predominantly lay staff; and, the plethora of modifications experienced by both the teaching staffs and students throughout the archdiocesan elementary schools. These changes responded in many ways to increased local, state, and national moves supporting pedagogical trends, societal demands, pastoral documents, legal mandates, and changing lifestyles. In 1955, there were 76,294 students enrolled in the archdiocesan schools of Milwaukee. The figure peaked in 1963, at 100,733. By 1980, there were 43,970 students enrolled. Additionally, there were 289 lay and 1,474 religious teaching in the elementary schools in 1955; by 1980, there were 1,891 lay and 553 religious teaching. Finally, pedagogical processes, professional credibility, monetary accountability, and social justice issues were continually addressed, challenged, and enhanced. Concomitantly, a montage of experiences during this time period affecting the schools included: turmoil in the Church and in American society called into question the institution of parochial schools which had so readily been accepted previously, Vatican II broke down the separatist attitude of Catholicism while the move into middle-class America reinforced the desire of not wanting to be different, the increase of lay teaching religion caused many to doubt the wisdom of sending their children to Catholic schools, divisiveness in how to best implement Vatican II decrees created bitter disputes causing many to shift parishes or leave the faith entirely, and, the declining number of religious and the increasing number of lay pronouncedly heightened the financial demands necessary to pay resources and even meager wages. The schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, like those of many dioceses throughout the United States, were coping on a piecemeal ad hoc basis. The independent nature of many parishes precluded large-scale consolidation efforts forcing many to close.

Recommended Citation

Joerres, Mark Thomas, "Administrative history of cultural and professional changes in elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 1955-1980" (1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9517940.