This paper conceptualizes Catholic education as a societal institution interdependent with other major social institutions in the country. A brief history of the American Catholic system demonstrates how its origin and growth were influenced by and affected the cultural, political, religious, and economic milieu in which it was embedded. In particular, the development of Catholic education interacted with the growth of the public schools system. Comparisons of contemporary Catholic and public schools illustrate this interdependency while underscoring the uniqueness and contributions of Catholic education. A sociological understanding of Catholic education as a societal entity should inform decisions about the future of Catholic education and suggest ways that the institutional interdependence of Catholic and public schools can benefit both systems.

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