Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

John Watzke

Second Advisor

Gary Beckley

Third Advisor

Julie Kalnin

LC Subjects

Religious education--Evaluation; Religious education--Study and teaching (Secondary); Catholic high schools--Evaluation; Catholic high school students


Recent research indicates that membership in the Catholic Church is steadily declining. Simultaneously, the rise of the religiously unaffiliated continues to grow. This phenomenon is a spiritual and cultural crisis within the Church. Studies demonstrate an inverse relationship between age and disaffiliation as younger generations are more reflective of identifying with no religious affiliation. Recognizing a growing generational gap and the need to better understand the lives of young people, Pope Francis is urging the faithful to become a “listening Church.” Situated as an important meeting point for many young people, Catholic schools are an important proximal zone for faith formation. Specifically, Catholic high schools require four years of religious education designed to provide a holistic foundation through three inter-related domains: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a U.S. Catholic high school religious education program upon recent graduates and their subsequent religious affiliation. In aggregate, 106 survey responses were collected from graduates of one Catholic high school spanning the previous one to three years. Twenty-three of the graduates surveyed participated in one of four different focus groups assigned by their current religious affiliation: Catholic, Former Catholic, Non-Catholic Christian, and No Religious Affiliation. Key findings revealed that an open invitation, the promotion of questions, teacher relationships with students, and experiential learning opportunities were viewed as essential elements of quality religious instruction. The educational outcomes from this study promote cultivating student questions, tailoring educational experiences for different learners, inviting students to discern their own beliefs, and providing real-life learning activities as methods for improved practice.


Copyright retained by the author.