Archbishop Kurtz lauded for
support of Catholic education

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz greeted educators after a special back-to-school Mass for Catholic school faculty Aug. 12, 2021, at St. Gabriel Church. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s leadership over the past nearly 15 years has made Catholic schools more accessible to families and provided support to the Archdiocese of Louisville’s schools, said local officials.

“What I have seen is a true integration into the life of the schools,” said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, Superintendent of Schools. “If somebody reaches out and says, ‘Archbishop, will you come?’ He is always responsive.

“Not just for the sacraments — it could be a sports event, it could be a visit to a classroom — he was available. That was huge because his calendar is full,” she noted.

“All you had to do was make an invitation. I know it wasn’t always easy, but he always had a smile on his face. I think that’s something people will always remember and appreciate.”

Archbishop Kurtz will retire from leading the Archdiocese of Louisville on March 30 when his successor, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre will be installed as Archbishop of Louisville. Since the appointment was announced on Feb. 8, Archbishop Kurtz has been serving as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

He became Archbishop of Louisville in 2007, a time when the Catholic Education Foundation was offering tuition assistance to fewer than 1,000 students, and had been since the awards began in 1999.

“We didn’t hit 1,000 kids until 2012,” said Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation. He came on board in 2014 as Archbishop Kurtz was hatching what Lechleiter calls a gamechanger for Catholic school students: The Catholic Elementary School Plan.

The plan, announced in November of 2014, called parishes and pastors to work together on Catholic education. The plan’s biggest impact on tuition assistance comes from a contribution made by every parish to a tuition assistance fund.

“That doubled the revenue we had for tuition assistance,” said Lechleiter. “The impact it had was enormous. … It shot off like a rocket after that. The impact after that decision added significant resources to families that struggled” to afford Catholic school tuition.

In the 2014-2015 school year, prior to the plan’s implementation, the CEF provided need-based tuition assistance to 1,476 students.

By 2016, the CEF was able to help 2,650 students attend Catholic schools and distributed $5.8 million in need-based aid.

By the 2018-2019 school year, the foundation had distributed $6.4 million in aid to 3,100 students.

This school year, the 2021-2022 term, 3,400 students received a total of $7 million in aid.

Lechleiter credits the steady increase to the elementary school plan, including the support of pastors and parishioners. He also credits the support of the community when they see the archbishop, other leaders and the foundation working together for the good of families.

“He’s done a lot of great work over 15 years. What he’s done for Catholic education is one of his best, if not his best. His legacy as time passes, I believe you will look back and see that our best days for Catholic education are ahead of us and he has laid the groundwork,” Lechleiter added. “He’s been a blessing for me personally and for this diocese for sure.”

For Superintendent Bowling, the elementary school plan “was a critical pivoting point for us in including students we might not have been serving before.”

Bowling had just been hired as assistant superintendent when the plan was announced. Prior to that, she had served as an elementary school principal.

“It made an impact on the number of students we served. He was instrumental in supporting Catholic education in that way,” she said.

Beyond the finances, though, she added, “his investment was in the life of the schools, all the things he made so meaningful by his presence.”

“People are appreciative of that presence,” she said. “He is always supportive of our teachers and faculty. His homilies always have a story you can latch onto and that resonate with our students. He is a born teacher — he can connect with any age group.”

Archbishop Kurtz also helped schools keep their Catholic identity at the forefront, she said.

“He would make you go back and think about how deliberate you are about Catholic identity,” she added. “Here too, he always makes you think, how are you growing in your faith?”

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