By Irwin St. John Tucker Chicago, December
EVEN at this distance it is hard to write, or even -1-•# to think, about the fire at Our Lady of Angels parochial school, Chicago, in which 89 children and three nuns perished horribly.
Every day or so another one of the victims still fighting for life is reported weaker. Every newsreel, every weekly magazine, conveys pictures of the disaster and of the equally harrowing inquest in which mothers and fathers who lost children in the blaze were called upon to tell their stories.
All differences and divisions vanished in the wave of human sympathy evoked by this tragedy. Already the relief fund has passed a quarter of a million dollars. There will be more.
School officials and fire marshals from every part of the country have been flocking to Chicago, examining the building, listening to testimony, checking on reports. Every parent of a school child, anywhere, was seized by that frightening question: "Is our school perfectly safe?"
Here in Chicago rigorous inspection reveals a dreadful fact: there are no perfectly safe schools. Even the most modern must have some inflammable material in them. Even with the most adequate fire drill, there is always danger.
But Catholic schools and Catholic parents are hit hardest. The cost of reconditioning schools declared unsafe must be borne by parents and members of that parish. Schools which need most repairs are invariably in the oldest and poorest sections. We have not yet recovered from the "recession".
Public school repairs and remodelling are paid for out of tax money, to which Catholic parents are bound to contribute. On top of that comes the extra cost of parochial schools, which in this country get no aid from taxes. In many places there is a strong battle waged against even allowing children attending parochial schools to ride on school buses.
In this month's "Readers' Digest" is a survey of the fantastic sums being spent on new "palaces of education". Often the communities in which they are located are crippled financially by exorbitant building costs. These always exceed estimates, sometimes by as much as 100 per cent.
Catholic parents have to pay their share of these, and in addition pay for church schools which cannot rival their public school "opposite numbers".
This condition becomes far worse in colleges. No Catholic college can hope to pay for equipment necessary in studying nuclear physics Those cyclotrons are beyond their reach.
Thus the Church in this country faces a choice between raising a generation of Catholics ignorant of nuclear science, imposing impossible burdens on its members to pay for this equipment, or sending students in increasing numbers to public State-supported institutions and endowed non-Catholic privately supported schools.
To this the Newman Clubs form an answer. But it is not a sufficient answer. The whole educational system of the Church is built on the theory that religious orders will provide the teachers.
If religious orders send their teacher-candidates en incase to public or non-Catholic training centres, the whole climate of Catholic education will change.
Possibly, that will be all for the better. Personally, I think so.
But it will not happen without a struggle. In this country the Church is furiously rethinking its educational theory.
To that, the school fire at Our Lady of the Angels has given an enormous impetus. It touches us where we live.
'PRAY FOR PEACE AT HOME'
Cardinal Spellman's Christmas in Germany AMERICAN Catholic service
men stationed in Germany were urged to pray for peace at home as well as abroad by Cardinal Spellman in a sermon at midnight Mass at Christmas at the U.S. air base near Wiesbaden. Referring to American labour difficulties, he said it was regrettable that they could not be settled in order to pave the way for the solution of the larger problems of international peace.
"It is a sad situation that we are faced with leech-like union leaders who have indeed become traitors to the working man," he said.
During his four-day tout of Germany, the Cardinal, who is Military Vicar as well as Archbishop of New York, also visited bases at Ramstein, Frankfurt, and Heidelberg. He said he would continue visiting U.S. troops overseas, as he had often done in the past, until world peace was achieved and the servicemen would come home.
THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS or Nobertine Fathers are to set up their first house in Australia at the invitation of Archbishop Prendiville of Perth. They will take charge of the parish of York. In this country, besides several parishes, they have the Priory of Our Lady of England at Storrington, Sussex.
THE CANADIAN Suipician Fathers recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of their arrival in Japan. One of the first two Sulpicians to come to the country was Fr, Leger, now Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal. '