Catholic schools rely on donor generosity through CSA

| January 30, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Since 1969, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have benefited from the annual Catholic Services Appeal, which distributes donor contributions to specific ministries throughout the archdiocese.

This year’s appeal seeks to raise $9.3 million, with $2.4 million allocated for education.

According to Cathy Cornell, coordinator of marketing and financial aid for the archdiocese’s schools office, many schools depend on, and even budget for, the money collected through the CSA, which is operated by an independent foundation.

Elementary schools receiving CSA funds have the highest number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Money from the appeal helps schools in two ways — it provides subsidies for elementary schools and tuition assistance for high school students who apply for financial aid.

Thanks to CSA funds, the $2,500 Archdiocesan High School Grant was awarded to 386 students who ranked the highest in need at 12 of the archdiocese’s high schools for the 2013-2014 school year.

“The CSA helps to make our schools stronger by offsetting the challenge of giving tuition assistance to these families,” Cornell said. “Without this tuition assistance, so many of these families can’t go. Even with assistance, it’s a big challenge to pay.”

One hundred percent of the money goes only to “very needy” families; schools must find ways to assist them further. Because there is a new pool of students each year, families must reapply, so assistance isn’t guaranteed. The amount per school is different every year.

“We can only distribute what we have,” Cornell said, “so it’s important [to reach the $9.3 million goal].”

Cornell recalled times when families contacted her directly because their situation changed suddenly — a health crisis, divorce or death in the family — prohibiting their ability to pay for a Catholic education.

“I can just remember crying in my office,” Cornell said. “These people were really afraid they weren’t going to be able to stay in the school. They knew the environment was perfect for their children, but they were struggling to put food on the table and pay medical bills. The Church doesn’t pick and choose who can come, and neither should our schools.”

Holistic education

Kari Staples, administrator at St. Alphonsus, a pre-K–8 school in Brooklyn Center, is familiar with the challenge of helping families provide a Catholic education for their children. Each year, her school uses CSA funds to offset tuition costs for students, of which 33 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch.

Despite challenges, data show that Catholic schools in the archdiocese have a history of success. In addition to high graduation rates (97 percent, with 97 percent pursuing secondary education), students’ standardized test scores are above the state and national average, according to the 2013 Catholic Schools Annual Report (available at schools.archspm.org).

“It’s so much more than test scores,” Cornell said. “It’s really about the character and the whole community coming together in worship and prayer and surrounding the child and shaping that character with the gift of faith. That’s the difference.”

Cornell said a Catholic education often serves as a stabilizing force for students who live in communities with their own set of challenges.

“When we’re unable to assist a family, we’re looking at the viability of a school and long-term sustainability of a school,” Cornell said. “Enrollments are huge, and if you cannot help a family be enrolled there and pay the tuition . . . one has an effect on the other. A Catholic school is such an evangelizing force of the church.”

Staples sees the difference at her school.

“If you come to one of our school Masses, it’s amazing to see the diversity,” she said. “Come tour St. Al’s and see where the money gets put to use, come see the children in the school. They don’t see themselves as different in any way — they’re just a student at St. Al’s. They’re all a gift from God.”

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Category: Catholic Schools Week