-Sofia Larkin Appleby, Major Gifts Officer
Founation for the Diocese of El Paso
My memories of Catholic schools are all fond. There were no nuns beating me with rulers or paddles at Teresiano in Managua, Nicaragua, where I attended kindergarten. Nor from the Sisters of Loretto, who taught me from elementary until my high school graduation from Loretto Academy. They were never harsh and did not seem to enforce arbitrary rules. As a matter of fact, they were all incredibly giving, generous, and very, very patient. They were also honest and tough. Sister Lois, who taught economics, told my mother before a symphony concert while looking right at me, “I like the other one,” referring to my brainy sister. And they could be strict. My mother, a dutiful straight-A student at Sacré-Coeur in Chile, did not receive the coveted Daughter of Mary pin for laughing hysterically and uncontrollably during a tour of Easter Island because the nuns had clothed every statue in a diaper. High achieving student or not, that behavior was not tolerated. The nuns were the guardians of moral order and the defenders of academic achievement. They taught us respect for others, respect for ourselves, and respect for our Catholic faith.
But we no longer have these sisters, and their low salaries, arriving by the busload at our Catholic schools. Today we would be fortunate to fill a Fiat in most cases.
Could this visible lack of sisters be one of the reasons enrollment in Catholic schools is down? According to the authors of a study called, “Common Good and Catholic Schools,” Catholic high schools and perhaps secondary and elementary as well, “manage simultaneously to achieve relatively high levels of student learning, distribute this learning more equitably with regard to race and class than in the public sector, and sustain high levels of teacher commitment and student engagement.” If Catholic schools work so well, then why are they declining? Because we’re a secular nation? Parents don’t make sacrifices like they used to? Scandal? Charter Schools? Maybe all of these to some degree but there is also one answer we know is true: The rising cost of providing a Catholic education is making it difficult for many parents to afford it.
A 2014 study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice suggests charter schools are the way to go. “Catholic schools struggling to stay open with declining enrollments can stay afloat if they ‘convert’ to public charter schools.” But Nashville Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, OP, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Catholic Education countered, “A charter school is a public school. It doesn’t have a religious component to it. That’s an important distinction.” Beth Blaufus, president of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington believes that charter and Catholic schools can coexist. “In a climate where school choice is enabled, our school regularly receives applicants from charter schools. The existence of other educational options can actually help her school’s Catholic identity.” This leads us to the “increasingly urgent” question posed by the Friedman report: How can you convince parents that a Catholic education is still worth the investment?
Blaufus said, “Now, there are alternatives, so what sets us apart? It must be a FAITH that is a joyous, relevant anchor to all we do and an answer to parents’ and kids’ deepest anxieties and hopes.” Sister John Mary, who has several advanced degrees in education and helped coordinate and manage a $46 million renovation campaign for a new school and related projects, said, “ … the rise of charter schools should motivate Catholic school leaders to better articulate their unique identity.” Instilling a Catholic identity and developing children holistically — spiritually, morally, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically — in a Catholic environment, is another answer and it takes a village.
According to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, “The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong so all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead.”
Tuition and parish subsidies are no longer enough to keep our schools in the black so Catholic schools and dioceses across the country have turned to creating and building endowment funds to keep their doors open. They are the long-term answer that will give our schools financial security, financial aid, and scholarship money. In El Paso, you already have an established foundation where you can give. In 2015, donations to Catholic schools up to $70,000 (maximum of $20,000 per school on a first-come, first-served basis) will be matched dollar for dollar by the Scanlan Foundation. Our goal is to build the Catholic schools endowment funds to $12 million in order to support and sustain Catholic education in the Diocese of El Paso in perpetuity. The current fund value is $6,572,710.55. We’re halfway there!
The Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso is awarding $179,507 in scholarship aid to 81 students for the 2015-2016 school year including 11 Hunt Scholars. The Bishop’s Scholarship, the Mike and Clara Miles Scholarship and a grant from the Hunt Family Foundation have made it possible for economically disadvantaged and hardworking middle class families to send elementary, middle, and high school students to Catholic school. That’s great news!! But it could be a lot better. In 2015, the Foundation had to turn away 68% of new applicants because of a lack of funding.
Your gifts to Catholic Schools Endowment Funds are extremely important because they will have an immediate and transformative impact not only on the Foundation Scholars, but on their families, this community and the whole diocese, and will definitely have a lasting one. Gifts and pledges of all sizes are welcome. Tax-deductible donations can be made on a one-time basis or over a period of time (1-5 years), and you can pay with check, credit card, or automatic debit. You may also leave the Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso a bequest for the Catholic school of your choice.
You can reach Major Gifts Officer Sofía Larkin Appleby at 915.872.8412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Foundation for the Diocese of El Paso is located at 499 St. Matthews Street and office hours are Monday – Friday, 9-12, 1-5, and by appointment.
Left: A mother stops by a community booth to receive information on Catholic schools. Right: Students at St. Raphael’s Catholic school enjoy a classroom activity outside.