At the Heart of the Church: Selected Documents of Catholic Education (2012) serves as a great collection of documents as well as a fantastic primer on Catholic school history. Edited by Ronald Nuzzi and Thomas Hunt, the book offers a great argument for examining church documents as well as an overview of selected episcopal and papal documents (1792-1962). This chapter is perhaps the most valuable summary of American Catholic history I’ve read in some time.
The book serves as a great reminder of the changes brought by Vatican II by detailing the isolated mentality of American Catholics before the council. Warning of the “grave dangers” outside the church, Catholic schools served as bulwarks against the prevailing culture. Catholic schools were vital to the church, often built before the church itself in a new parish. Parents used to be required to send their students to Catholic schools and salvation could only be found within the church. (However, enrollment never exceeded 50% of Catholic children.)
These chapters serve as the prologue to the documents themselves which are gathered in one place. The volume serves as a great reference text whose introductory chapters provide the context for the subsequent documents.