October 18, 2013

Record $3 million raised to send children to Catholic schools

Mary McCoy, the archdiocese’s assistant superintendent for Catholic schools, shares the importance of a Catholic education for children on Oct. 8 at the 18th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards event. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

Mary McCoy, the archdiocese’s assistant superintendent for Catholic schools, shares the importance of a Catholic education for children on Oct. 8 at the 18th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards event. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

By John Shaughnessy

It was a night to celebrate the record $3 million raised in the archdiocese to help children receive a Catholic education.

It was a night to also cherish the story of a mother who desperately wanted her child to continue to attend a Catholic school.

Both highlights were part of the archdiocese’s 18th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards event on the night of Oct. 8. (Related: Honorees help shape students’ paths to life of generosity, love and service)

Mary McCoy shared the mother’s story as the featured speaker at the celebration.

“A mother came to my office asking for help with her tuition payment,” said McCoy, the archdiocese’s assistant superintendent for Catholic schools, in recalling one of her defining moments as the principal of St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis.

“The bank was going to automatically withdraw the money from her account in a few days, and she was concerned this would cause an overdraft. It was during the winter when we were having record-breaking low temperatures, and we were concerned that some of our families did not have heat in their homes. She assured me she had heat and food, but she was so worried about not having the money in her account to pay the tuition.”

At that point, McCoy wondered how much money the mother needed to pay her bill.

“When I asked her how much her payment would be, she told me, ‘37 dollars,’ ” McCoy said to the 600 people who attended the archdiocesan event at Union Station in Indianapolis. “That’s when I did what anyone in this room would have done. I pulled out my checkbook and wrote her a check. I tell you this story because it truly put things in perspective for me. These are the challenges the families are facing. And you are helping to make a difference.”

The theme of “making a difference” was a constant one during the event. Noting that the $3 million in donations nearly tripled the previous record of $1.1 million that was established in 2012, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin praised the generosity and commitment of many people in the archdiocese to Catholic education.

“One of the most attractive features of this archdiocese from the get-go for me has been the commitment to Catholic education,” the archbishop told the audience. “Not simply providing a quality education, but with the actual experience of daily formation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Many of you have received gratefully the gift of Catholic education. And now you give back. So I thank you. I thank you for the gift you are giving to children and their families.”

Archbishop Tobin saluted the four people who were honored during the event for the way they represent the values of Catholic education. Julie Bowers and Dr. David Wolf received Career Achievement Awards while John and Sarah Lechleiter were honored with the Community Service Award.

The archbishop also praised this year’s event chairman John Gause, development chairman Mike McGinley and their committees for their fundraising success. A total of nearly $8.7 million has been raised in the 18 years of the event.

Those contributions are even more significant, McCoy stressed, considering just how crucial a Catholic education is to children from low-income families.

“Research has shown that people who attend Catholic schools are more likely to vote, to earn higher wages, to be civically engaged, and to be more committed to service as adults than other graduates,” McCoy told the audience. “Latino and African-American students who attend Catholic school are more likely to graduate from high school and college than their peers.

“Research also shows that the poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains in Catholic schools. And a study about two of our own urban Catholic high schools a few years ago found that their graduates were seven times as likely to attend college as others in their surrounding neighborhoods.”

McCoy witnessed that impact during her seven years as an administrator at St. Philip Neri School.

Once staffed by the Sisters of Providence who taught mostly poor Irish immigrants, the school now serves mostly immigrants from Mexico. Most of the families live in poverty. Most of the students speak English as their second language. Most of the parents dream of a better life for their children.

“I learned from my families that a Catholic education is important to them,” McCoy said. “In Mexico, only the rich can afford a Catholic education. So when families come to the United States, they are surprised to learn a Catholic education is even a possibility. And thanks to contributions from tax credit scholarships and our state vouchers, more and more minority families are able to receive a Catholic education.”

This year’s event focused on promoting the importance of Indiana tax credit scholarships as a way to make a Catholic education possible for children from lower- and moderate-income families.

The $3 million record amount this year was raised mostly through the Education CHOICE Charitable Trust for Tax Credit Scholarships, according to G. Joseph Peters, special consultant to the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education.

“Many things changed in the school choice laws this year, but the most important allowed for Tax Credit Scholarships to apply to income-eligible students already in our Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Peters said.

“A Tax Credit Scholarship of at least $500 per child, given for one year, allows an eligible student to receive the state school voucher the following year and for up to 12 years of education in a Catholic school—a potential of $60,000 in state voucher assistance.”

This year, 4,742 of the more than 23,000 students in the archdiocese are able to attend Catholic schools through the educational choice program, according to Harry Plummer, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

McCoy has seen how those efforts have made a difference. In closing her speech, she offered one more example of the impact of a Catholic education.

“A former student from St. Philip Neri School will graduate this year from one of our outstanding Catholic high schools, thanks to several of you sitting in this room tonight,” she said. “He is an Indiana 21st Century Scholar and plans on studying at the University of Indianapolis next year.

“He will not only be the first in his family to go to college, he will be the first to have a high school diploma. I plan to be at both his high school and college graduations.” †

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