August 8, 2008

Lilly Endowment Inc. awards $5 million capital grant to improve archdiocesan schools

Construction workers make improvements in a hallway at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis on July 23. The Indianapolis East Deanery interparochial high school is using a $1 million allocation of a Lilly Endowment grant to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to make capital improvements. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Construction workers make improvements in a hallway at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis on July 23. The Indianapolis East Deanery interparochial high school is using a $1 million allocation of a Lilly Endowment grant to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to make capital improvements. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Lilly Endowment Inc. recently made a major commitment of its resources to support archdiocesan schools in the center city of Indianapolis and in two of its urban high schools.

The archdiocese has determined to use the $5 million grant the Endowment awarded to make much-needed capital improvements to the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies (MTCA) in the center city of Indianapolis, to Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in the Indianapolis West Deanery and to Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in the Indianapolis East Deanery.

More than half of the grant money—nearly $2.9 million—will be used to make major improvements to an aging St. Philip Neri School, while Central Catholic School and Holy Cross Central School have received $75,000 and $31,400 to make much-needed facilities improvements.

The two high schools received $1 million each.

A facilities audit of the academies determined which facilities needed the most improvements, archdiocesan officials said.

The grant is one of the largest ever awarded to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of the archdiocesan secretariat for Catholic education and faith formation, said the grant means good things for the future of Catholic education in the schools benefiting from the grant.

“It’s a promising sign,” she said. “I think it says that we do have a future. … There are so many challenges. But it allows us to take those challenges and turn them into the opportunities.”

An opportunity that might arise from this grant award is the possible growth of support for archdiocesan schools from the broader community.

“The archdiocese appreciates this support from Lilly Endowment, and now we look forward to inviting other funders to add their support to the Endowment’s,” said Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general. “We feel that with Lilly Endowment’s gift in hand, we can continue to invite corporations in Indianapolis to partner with us.”

The grant is already having an impact on the school communities whose facilities will be improved as a result, according to Joseph Therber, executive director of the archdiocesan secretariat for stewardship and development.

“This initiative has already spurred renewed optimism for the future of our urban Catholic schools,” Therber said. “We are very thankful for every gift and investment that we receive, especially this very timely and purposeful grant.”

Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School

Optimism bubbled out of Eddy Guanajuato, the band director at Cardinal Ritter, as he talked about the future of the school. With the improvements funded by the grant, his band room will grow from 835 to 3,300 square feet.

“Having a place large enough so that I can have the entire band in one room … is such a support for me,” said Guanajuato. “Now my program has no where to go but up. And I’m very, very happy where it’s at right now.”

From the funds received, Cardinal Ritter will also be constructing four new classrooms, two art studios and a new library in a new wing at the school.

The need for the major addition was brought about because the school’s enrollment has grown by 50 percent—from 380 students to 570 students—over the past six years.

Cardinal Ritter president Paul Lockard said the grant will help the school be more faithful to the legacy of its namesake, Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter, who, as bishop of Indianapolis from 1934-46 and later as archbishop of St. Louis, was an early champion of racial integration in Catholic and public schools.

“We’re proud of his legacy, and we’re trying to carry that on here,” Lockard said. “We serve a diverse community: diverse learners, diverse religions, and diverse races and ethnicities.

“We are extremely grateful to Lilly Endowment. This couldn’t have been done without them.”

Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School

Like Guanajuato, Scecina music director David Doebler is going to see major changes in his facilities at the east side high school.

“It’s going to bring more kids into the music program,” said Doebler, who noted that a third of Scecina students are already involved in music.

“It makes us, as a school, more attractive. Having a better facility, bringing more kids into our music department … will continue to attract better students.”

In addition to making major improvements to Scecina’s music rooms, the grant is also funding a large makeover of the school’s hallways and the heating and air conditioning system.

The hallways will have improved lighting and flooring, and will highlight Scecina’s academic, service and athletic achievements.

Much of this work started as soon as the 2007-08 academic year ended last spring. Workers are now putting in long hours to get the school ready for the new academic year about to begin on Aug. 11.

Maribeth Ransel, Scecina president and a 1961 graduate of the school, is excited about all of the changes.

“As a graduate, I have always felt that Scecina was a place of great worth and value to people,” she said. “I think it has always provided an exceptional educational experience.

“The changes inside the school will now mimic what goes on educationally here, which is a really fine educational program.”

Mother Theodore Catholic Academies

At Central Catholic School, the Lilly Endowment grant is providing funding for the connection of a portable classroom to the main school building, and connecting the school water supply to the new city water supply.

At Holy Cross Central School, the grant is making possible repairs to the building’s water pressure problems and in the fire prevention system as well as restoration work in a school entrance that will enhance the school’s appearance and safety.

At Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, however, the bulk of the grant’s funds will be used to make widespread updates to St. Philip Neri School, which was built in 1926.

The building’s ceilings and its lighting, electrical, security, fire alarm, and heating and air conditioning systems will receive a total overhaul. In addition, its science rooms will see major improvements.

“When you want to move children as far as you can academically, you need the correct environment so that it promotes an optimum learning situation,” said Connie Zittnan, MTCA director. “St. Philip Neri is in great need of [enhancing] its total learning environment to be able to move it into a positive environment for learning.”

Zittnan said the major investment in the school’s physical infrastructure will also have a positive effect on its students.

“They’ll know that this has been done for them,” she said. “The children, I think, will get a very good understanding of the value that people feel that they have, and the opportunities that they have, because that much money and that much thought is going into their school so that they can be successful.”

Stabilizing neighborhoods

The major influx of funds for St. Philip Neri in particular, said Zittnan, will say a lot to the neighborhood that surrounds it.

“St. Philip Neri has been the anchor in that neighborhood for years,” she said. “And when you see that there are $3 million in improvements being placed into the facility, it shows stability. And that community needs stability.”

All of the schools who are benefiting through Lilly Endowment’s grant serve students from neighborhoods destabilized in recent years by growing drop-out and crime rates, Msgr. Schaedel said.

“Business and civic leaders want safe, stable neighborhoods, and they want a well-educated and responsible workforce,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be an anchor in the community.

“We’re trying to make these neighborhoods a better place to live. And we are trying to produce responsible citizens and workers.”

(For more information on the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, log on to For more information on Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School, log on to For more information on Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, log on to

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