By Richard A. Lechleiter
A year ago last week, the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Catholic Education Foundation jointly announced a bold new plan to help families finance their children’s education in our Catholic elementary schools in central Kentucky. The key message on that day was simple — we are going to double the amount of tuition assistance funding available to help families who struggle mightily to pay their tuition bills.
The plan was in place. The foundation would increase its funding by 20 percent, to $2 million, and the archdiocese, through the generosity of all 111 of its parishes, would come up with over $1 million annually (all new funding). Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said it best — “A New Day for Catholic Schools.”
Of course, the final answer surprised all of us. In all, over 2,400 Catholic elementary school students (one in every five students in our schools) received $5 million in tuition assistance. It was an astonishing 60 percent increase over the record number of students who had received an award in the previous year. On an even better note, for the first time in our history, every family that applied for assistance and demonstrated a financial need earned an award.
Of even greater importance were the results we achieved together at the schools that need us the most. Now widely disseminated in the press, St. Rita School in Okolona rocketed from 188 students to 233 in one year. Just down the road on the Outer Loop, St. Athanasius School took off from 390 to 414 students! Both of these schools are reporting their first enrollment growth in years — and there will be more next fall.
In the Dixie Highway corridor, St. Paul School enrollment jumped by 33 students to 248. Their pipeline for future growth is huge, with 71 students now enrolled in their Pre-K and kindergarten classes. In addition, both St. Andrew Academy in Pleasure Ridge Park and Notre Dame Academy on the campus of St. Lawrence Church reported year-over-year enrollment growth. Look for even more growth in the Dixie corridor next year.
Ascension School is on a roll, with 32 new students over last year, bringing their total to 219. Father Steven Henriksen, principal Terry Mullaney and the entire Ascension community have raised the bar for our young students, and there’s no looking back! Check out the new school video on their website — it is a vibrant invitation to join a great Catholic school community.
In the surrounding counties, our message of growth, outreach and inclusion is making a difference as well. At St. Catherine Academy in New Haven, Ky., enrollment grew 15 percent year-over-year, while St. Dominic in Springfield added 13 more students this fall, bringing their enrollment to 199. St. James School in Elizabethtown also reported enrollment growth.
A year later, our common goal to increase Catholic elementary school enrollment in the Archdiocese of Louisville by 1,000 students over the next four years is making more sense — and attracting more support!
So what does this early success really mean? For starters, we need to do more. The fact is, there are still thousands of families in our community who long for a Catholic education for their children, but can’t afford it.
A slogan that we coined at the foundation — “The Answer is Yes!”— is now much more than a marketing piece. It has become a mandate, an obligation to each and every family who needs us.
For the first time in years, Catholic schools in our most challenged neighborhoods are experiencing enrollment growth and, more importantly, a renewed sense of excitement about their futures and what “could be.” Our financial resources must grow — and rapidly!
For our part at the Catholic Education Foundation, we couldn’t be more thankful for this incredible first-year outcome. It is both humbling and exhilarating. And we can’t wait for the deluge of higher demand for our Catholic schools next spring! God bless all of you for your amazing generosity toward our most treasured Catholic school tradition.
Richard A. Lechleiter is the president of the Catholic Education Foundation.