My story on The Rule, a documentary about the remarkable St. Benedict’s Prep, is up at the Register:
From its founding in 1868, St. Benedict’s Prep was the place where generations of Catholics, many of them immigrants, sent their boys to be educated. It was a “white working man’s prep school in a white working-class city,” according to Tom McCabe, author of a history of the school called Miracle on High Street (Fordham University Press, 2010). Run by monks of the Order of St. Benedict, it was both a school and an abbey. Over time, the composition of the city changed. The white Catholic population fled the city. The black population increased. Enrollment dropped from 814 in the early 1960s to the low hundreds after the riots.
The school could no longer function as it had, so the monks began recruiting black youth from the neighborhood, with benefactors providing their tuition. Many of the students were capable, but they came from family and education backgrounds that didn’t provide them with the tools to succeed.
Some of the monks were uncomfortable with the change and shocked by the decline of the city, particularly after the riots. Benedictine Father Edwin Leahy, the headmaster, was a young monk at the time, and he said that many of his brothers were “petrified,” wondering if the blacks “would do to us what we did to them.”
The monks were divided. Some wanted to close the school and relocate the abbey. Others, many of whom had been educated at St. Benedict’s and found their vocations there, resisted. They felt this was where they needed to be. As Father Leahy said: “What I had gotten I wanted other kids to have.”
When the abbot failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to relocate the monastery, he closed the school in 1972. A lot of factors went into the closing, from declining enrollment to cost, but McCabe has said, “I would argue that the school closed over race.”