The oldest baptismal record in America, dated 1741, is at St. John the Baptist Church in rural Ottsville, Pennsylvania, part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. But not so long ago, the Catholic school at one of the nation’s longest-surviving Catholic parishes was on the brink of closure.
Brian Middleton saw rapid decline when his youngest daughter, Maria, was a student. When she was in first grade, in 2008, Brian sat in the balcony of the old parish church for the opening Mass because so many students filled the pews.
The next year, he found a seat in the back row. The following year, he was halfway up the church.
And it was then that he realized his daughter’s parochial school was failing, and he needed to do something.
“Without a Catholic education, when these children become adults and get lost along the way, they wouldn’t have a place to come home to,” the father worried. It was the deep formation of his own Catholic education that ultimately saved him from losing his faith in early adulthood.
So, Middleton went to the pastor to discuss the situation. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, a good man did something—and with the help of many others, this little Catholic school has since triumphed against the tide of secularism and a 50-year trend of declining parochial education across the United States.