Fewer Americans are attending traditional church services. Fewer are attending Catholic schools, too.

According to Gallup, the number of Americans who belong to a church, synagogue or mosque continued to decline last year, dropping below 50 percent for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend.

And thanks to the COVID pandemic, ABC News says enrollment in Catholic schools has seen the largest single-year decline in at least five decades.

I'm not sure what this rapid secularization of America means for our future.

But I do admit I wish more of today's children could experience the memorable upbringing I enjoyed growing up in a Catholic family.

Growing up Catholic in the 1970s meant going to a Catholic school.

Unlike too many schools today, in which some teachers fear their students, it was a time when we students of St. Germaine Catholic School feared the sisters.

The sisters ran their classrooms in a structured, orderly manner, and they took guff from no kid.

The floors were so clean, you could eat off of them. The blackboards had a brighter sheen than a Cadillac fender.

And our desks, which were subject to frequent and unannounced inspections, were expected to be organized at all times.

Our precious egos, fragile feelings and self-esteem were not part of the Church's teaching plan. Either we got with the sisters' program or we got into big trouble.

There was no daydreaming, talking, joking or doodling. It was expected that each student would put forth his or her best effort.

Anything short of excellence was grounds for severe punishment, which included everything from a call home to mom to a whack on the hand from Sister Mary Brass Knuckle's ruler.

Every day the sisters taught us to embrace the virtues - prudence, temperance and courage - and to fend off the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth (activities I like to save for the weekend!).

When they weren't pounding moral values into us, they worked us hard in math, science, reading and writing - the basic skills necessary for thriving as an adult.

I know this harsh approach to educating children is considered outdated and quasi-barbaric today.

But, I dare say, I think the lessons the sisters and my religion taught me are beneficial to a representative republic like ours - a sentiment shared by one of our country's wisest founders, Benjamin Franklin.

I'm re-reading his autobiography and delight in his common-sense approach to government.Franklin said that true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness.

As he put it, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

Franklin didn't often participate in church services himself, but he saw the benefits to society of citizens doing their best to practice and live virtuous lives and to demand virtue in their government leaders.

I'm not saying that you have to embrace a traditional religion to be virtuous or to understand the meaning and purpose of life.

But half a century later I can still see the value and order that religion has imparted on our republic throughout our history.

And I still have a lot of laughs when my old St. Germaine pals and I swap stories about our close encounters with Sister Mary Brass Knuckle's dreaded ruler.

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Copyright 2021 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood," a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact [email protected] or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at [email protected]