When James Dubyoski decided to go into Catholic education, he knew it was no get-rich-quick scheme.
On average, a lay Catholic teacher earns $26,800 a year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association; whereas a public school teacher earns on average $40,574, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
But this wage gap didn't deter Dubyoski. More than 20 years ago, during his student years at Loyola College in Baltimore he heard the “call” to Catholic teaching.
“Through several very powerful experiences of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, I felt led to Catholic education,” he says. “I believe that Catholic education is a place where God wants young people to experience and know his love for them, to live for him, to change the world as leaven.”
In his early 20s, Dubyoski finished his undergraduate degree in theology and began teaching religious studies at Loyola Blakefield, an all-boys secondary school founded in Towson, Md., in 1852.
His starting salary was about $10,000. Two years later, he and his fiancee, Mary, peered into their future and decided vocation was more important than money.
“If Catholic education is about a truth revealed in the person of Jesus, it's worth any sacrifice,” says Dubyoski. “We felt it was our calling to live this vocation, even though it's been hard work and not without suffering.”
The headmaster of Loyola Blakefield, John Weetenkamp III, stresses the value of good Catholic teachers. “Particularly in today's culture — the ‘Toxic Culture,’ as some psychologist called it. More than ever, our young men need dedicated role models. James Dubyoski is one of those.”
In 1984, when James and Mary exchanged wedding vows, they didn't take the “for poorer” for granted. They trusted God to see them through difficult times.
Soon, the children started coming. Their first baby was born two weeks before their first anniversary.
Mary describes their large family of seven children between the ages of 5 and 15 as a welcome surprise.
In his mid-30s, James earned a master's degree in pastoral counseling, also at Loyola College.
Over the years, he turned down several potentially lucrative sales positions. He was called to Catholic education, and that was that.
Both James and Mary are now in their early 40s and have found that rearing a large family on a small salary can be challenging.
Most Catholics are aware that Catholic teachers earn less, but few know what it really costs them to teach in Catholic schools.
Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told the Register: “Catholic teachers’ starting pay can be $10-15,000 less than public school teachers.’ Their health benefits may not be as extensive. Their retirement is less, often much less.”
Valenti explains why. “In diocesan schools, the moneys come from tuition and from the parishes. We will always have this struggle; we will never have parity with public schools. Perhaps school vouchers would make a difference, but if that doesn't happen, we will continue to rely on parents and parishes.
“Lay people make up 94% of Catholic teachers; religious and clergy, only 7%. Catholic teachers see teaching as their ministry, and they knowingly make sacrifices. But that in no way excuses the administration from trying for more equity between Catholic teachers and public school teachers.”
The Dubyoskis struggle financially, even though James earns an above-average salary because he teaches in a private Catholic secondary school.
Loyola Blakefield's average teachers’ salary is $37,000 and Blakefield's pay scale is 87% of Baltimore County's pay scale. Catholic elementary teachers in diocesan schools, the largest component of Catholic educators, earn an average salary of $20,716. That's about 40% less than their public schools counterparts.
What does “less” mean in everyday life, practically speaking?
“For the first eight years of our married life, we never bought new clothes,” says Mary Dubyoski.
“We bought virtually everything for the kids at yard sales. James’ parents had a vegetable garden from which they'd share with us. We've belonged to various food co-ops,” she adds.
Today, it is still necessary to save. “I buy all our food on sale. We don't go out to eat as a family. We don't subscribe to newspapers or magazines. We pay extra for adequate health insurance.”
Robert Kealey, executive director of the Elementary Schools Department in the National Catholic Education Association, comments: “We're talking real sacrifices here. I know teachers and principals who because of their commitment to Catholic education, cannot afford to send their own children to Catholic schools.”
“I think we must begin the process of educating people to the low salaries in our schools,” he adds. “Our teacher turnover rate is directly related to low salaries.”
The Dubyoski children attend a small, nearby interdenominational school. Their oldest daughter, their first in high school, has earned a full four-year scholarship to a girl's Catholic high school.
But not all Catholic teachers feel called to Catholic schools. A devout Catholic, John Leidy believes his teaching in the Ann Arbor, Mich., public school system is meeting a real need.
An elementary teacher for 10 years, he's noticed that the schools are moving away from moral relativism to basic virtues revered by most religious traditions.
“The relativism…has somewhat gone by the wayside and is being replaced by Life Skills programs,” he told the Register.
The values that appear in these programs could also be found in a class on Christian virtue: truthfulness, integrity, a sense of humor, cooperation and kindness.
“Teachers in public schools are fearful of talking about religion, especially when the holidays are coming,” says Leidy, who has sent his children to both private and public schools.
“But the law does allow kids to learn about religion, just as long as you're not pushing doctrine,” he oints out.
Kealey appreciates Catholics like John Leidy.
“This is the other side of the coin. When Catholics teach in the state-run schools, in a certain sense, they bring their Catholicity with them and that enriches the state school,” he says
The Special Joys
Kealey urges Catholic teachers to have a large vision. “There are real joys of teaching in Catholic schools,” he says, “of seeing children learn academically, grow in their faith and receive the various sacraments.”
James and Mary Dubyoski agree. Despite the struggles, they wouldn't change their life.
“We have James home every day and every weekend,” says Mary. “Many dads have to travel for business. James has summers off. That's when we supplement our income by running a soccer camp. It's a big family affair and it's great for the kids. They have their Dad right there.
“Most of all, we believe we're doing the Lord's will for us.”
James adds: “Sometimes, after my students leave, they'll write notes of thanks. They'll say how important my teaching was to them, maybe how they're going to study theology themselves.
“These rewards certainly make me feel that despite income sacrifices, I'm very rich.”
Una McManus writes from Columbia, Maryland.