Renowned fashion designer Kate Spade, who tragically committed suicide last week, attended Catholic schools in Kansas City, graduating from St. Teresa’s Academy.

A surprising article in the Los Angeles Times should cause educators at St. Teresa’s to think twice about the kind of Catholic education they offer their all-female student body.

Kate Spade at St. Teresa’s 2016.

The article begins, “Against a grim backdrop of rising suicide rates among American women, new research has revealed a blinding shaft of light: One group of women — practicing Catholics — appears to have bucked the national trend toward despair and self-harm.”

The results of a 15-year longitudinal study on suicide in JAMA Psychiatry prompted the article. The results of the study are astonishing. According to the study, although nominal Catholics are almost as prone to suicide as other women, suicides by Catholic women who attend church more than once a week “were a vanishing phenomenon.” Among the 6,999 especially devout Catholic women studied over 15 years, there was not a single suicide.

The study, observed Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry at UC Irvine, “suggests a causal relationship between religious practice and a significantly lower risk of suicide, especially among Catholics.”

Protestant women who regularly attended services were also less likely to commit suicide but not at the levels of devout Catholic women. This may have something to do with the Catholic Church’s historic commitment to life and its active prohibition against suicide.

Over the last generation or two, depending on who was in charge, St. Teresa’s has not been strong on the life issue. Students have been much more inclined to advocate for gun control–or some other social issue du jour–than for life.

Indeed, the school has prided itself on its light handed approach to Catholicism. It is not unusual in this regard among Catholic schools. On its home page “Spirituality” is just another box alongside “Athletics” and “Fine Arts.”

In the lengthy and well written school newsletter article about Kate Spade’s homecoming to St. Teresa’s two years ago, no one thought to ask Spade what role, if any, her faith had played in her career. Her experience at Saint Teresa’s had inspired her to send her daughter to an all-girls school in New York, but Spade made no mention of its religious affiliation.

During Spade’s tour of the campus, a classmate reminded Spade, “Remember we had a class called ‘prayer’?” This memory evoked laughter from the classmate, now an administrator at the school, and Spade, and that was the extent of the conversation on spirituality.

Spade may have been an outlier. Her inner demons may have overwhelmed a strong and studied faith, but it is more likely she left St. Teresa’s insufficiently prepared for the powerfully materialistic world in which she found herself living.

“Religion and spirituality may be an under-appreciated resource that psychiatrists and clinicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” wrote lead study author Tyler J. VanderWeele of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Secular educators are not about to share this news. Parochial educators had better.

 

 

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