By Father Steven Henriksen
The backpacks are full. The classrooms have been cleaned. And parents are preparing for tearful departures, however temporary, from their little ones.
Yes, school is upon us, once again!
Here at Ascension, our school is prepared to welcome its largest enrollment in five years, which comes on top of a 14 percent increase last year.
And we know that it takes more than exceptional educational leadership, quality faculty and state-of-the art technology to recruit and retain students: It takes money!
The nearly $5 million in tuition-based assistance provided to Catholic elementary students, noted in a recent edition of The Record, is a testament to the willingness of so many to give bountifully to our schools.
The generosity of parishioners — the reality that parish staff and faculty are paid less than their peers in order to provide additional support for our schools — and the extraordinary fundraising of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) are all critical to success.
In addition to the $2 million provided by the CEF for financial aid, individual parishes and schools contributed $1.5 million in direct assistance to students. At Ascension, a record $25,000 was provided by parishioners to our students, a sum on top of that afforded through fundraisers sponsored by our PTO and not to mention subsidies provided by the entire parish community.
Our sister parishes throughout the archdiocese — 110 strong — provided an additional $1.2 million through a one percent assessment on parish income. This commitment of a one-percent assessment should not be underestimated. In real terms, the assessment represented a 17-percent increase in the total amount of funds transferred from parishes to the archdiocese.
In some cases, the assessment came at a steep price, especially for parishes seeking to balance the multiplicity of ministry needs that are a part and parcel of every church.
The assessment came at a time when parishes are attempting to respond to calls for just wages for faculty and staff, the presence of needs for the repair and maintenance of facilities, and, of course, the ongoing requirements associated with formation, youth ministry and worship.
The one-percent assessment required some tough decisions for pastors working in collaboration with finance committees and parishioners. Yet, it is being accomplished!
The fact that not every parish has its own school could have complicated the picture. In fact, less than half of all parishes operate their own or have a direct stake in existing schools. A total of 34 school ministries, both parish-based and regional academies, are sponsored by parishes throughout the archdiocese.
The assessment meant that, in the words of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers,” it was “all for one, and one for all!” It was the result of a grassroots effort to increase access to Catholic education, one that involved representatives from more than 75 parishes to construct.
Consultation from the archdiocesan Finance Office as well as the Priests’ Council informed the input received from parishes and led to a comprehensive plan to revitalize Catholic elementary education.
The assessment, as well as structures and policies adopted to meet the needs of folks historically under served by our Catholic school system, among other purposes, are part of a whole. For indeed, the archdiocese is more than the sum of its constitutive parishes.
The next time you see your pastor, parish staff or school faculty, please thank them for making Catholic education a reality. And give yourself a pat on the pack, too!
For in working together, we nurture our faith in Jesus Christ, the reason why Catholic schools exist!
Father Steven Henriksen is the pastor of the Church of the Ascension.