Last week we had a wonderful presence of nearly 1,700 banqueters at the annual Salute to Catholic School Alumni Dinner held by the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF). At this event, CEF honored six graduates of Catholic schools who have lived lives of wonderful witness to their faith and to the common good. As happens each year, attendees left inspired and enthusiastic. We also honored Anne Bahr as teacher of the year, gave Bill Rothwell the Community Service award and heard a stirring keynote from our own Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville!
The Salute dinner is also the largest annual event that raises funds to help make Catholic schools affordable for families. When I went to Catholic high school in the 1960s, the tuition was about $50 a month — an amount that was within reach of my parents who lived on Social Security. My parents sacrificed, and so do parents who choose Catholic school for their children today. This makes even more important Bishop Spalding’s important point that each Catholic school is our school, and I would add, each child deserves a chance for a Catholic education. Richard Lechleiter, president of CEF, says it this way: “The answer is yes.”
Much has been done to bring together resources, and those resources have grown so that last year, CEF distributed almost $6.5 million dollars in tuition assistance to needy families. Four years ago, the 110 parishes of the Archdiocese came together to provide the equivalent of a 1% assessment for tuition assistance. The parishes agreed to this path because the focus was on giving a child a chance.
Giving a child a chance means providing that child with a solid foundation of excellent academics and robust extracurricular activities with an equally excellent foundation in the principles of the Catholic faith, leading to an abiding faith in Jesus Christ. All of these elements combine to provide our students with the opportunity to earn that crisp diploma at the conclusion of their Catholic school experience and more importantly, to develop to be persons of faith with the character, work ethic, and commitment to make lasting contributions to their families, neighborhoods, work and broader community.
I like to say the Catholic school is producing a pathway for each child to become a true citizen of heaven on his or her journey of faith as well as a well-grounded and healthy citizen of earth, committed to healthy living, to strong families and to good citizentry.
While the commitment has been great, the need continues to be greater. In his powerful keynote, Bishop Spalding also challenged us: “if we do not do more, less will be available.” I was very disappointed that the Commonwealth of Kentucky was not successful in passing legislation allowing for scholarship tax credits that would provide a needed support to students who, with this help, might thrive in a Catholic school.
To be sure, I support strong public schools as well as strong Catholic schools. The focus needs to be on the child and where that student will best thrive. It saddens me that the necessary dialogue and debate that occurred during this past General Assembly focused little on the individual student. I will join with others in continuing to pursue scholarship tax credits. In more than two dozen states in the United States, such scholarship credits have made a mighty difference in the lives of individual students, and all schools have become healthier.
I look back on my Catholic school education with deep gratitude to the teachers and administrators and to my parents who sacrificed to send me to a Catholic school. In those days (and I know this happens today), the tuition of a student who could not afford a Catholic school was often covered by an aunt or an uncle or even a neighbor. Pray that we can continue to foster many creative ways of funding Catholic schools so that our Catholic education will be strong, and students will continue to grow strong in faith and character. Pray especially that the great gift of Catholic education will never become a choice only for the affluent.