$4 million for tuition assistance raised Archdiocesan funds will help students at 15 Catholic schools

January 24, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

To boost enrollment at faltering Catholic schools in Baltimore, the archdiocese has raised nearly $4 million for tuition assistance over the next three years, officials announced yesterday.

The pledges, which will be shared by 15 schools, are more than double the amount of money available for tuition assistance at all 101 archdiocesan schools. And they are several times more than the archdiocesan funds given to inner-city schools through the annual Lenten Appeal and Cardinal Shehan Scholarship Fund.

"This is the single most important new initiative for inner-city Catholic school students since I arrived here in Baltimore in 1989," Cardinal William H. Keeler said at a news conference at Father Charles A. Hall Elementary School in West Baltimore. The money was pledged by a small group of local companies, foundations and individuals.

Partners in Excellence, the first such program for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, aims to help schools, often in poor neighborhoods, by giving partial scholarships to youngsters who would not otherwise be able to afford a Catholic education.

Many Catholic schools in neighborhoods such as Highlandtown and Fells Point have been hurt by changing demographics and economics.

Last week, the archdiocese said it would close 73-year-old Holy Rosary School in Fells Point as part of a plan to restructure a half-dozen schools in Southeast Baltimore.

Holy Rosary, with 80 students in a school built for 600, will close at the end of this school year. The South Chester Street elementary is the first archdiocesan school closed since St. Cecilia in West Baltimore in 1992.

"Partners in Excellence was formed in response to the difficult situation faced by our schools and by many families," Keeler said.

Seven local companies, three foundations and two individuals who wish to remain anonymous have pledged $3.6 million. Yesterday's announcement was originally scheduled for November, and then December, but was delayed so more donors could join the campaign, which has been under way for more than a year.

"Today is a beginning. Overall, we hope to raise $5.6 million by the end of this year, and $1.5 million in new funds each year, for tuition and an endowment," the cardinal told the students and business, church and school leaders who crowded into a classroom.

Student Tiffany Allen couldn't agree more. Partners in Excellence brought her back to Father Charles Hall, which she left -- sadly -- after first grade for financial reasons.

"My mom wanted me to come here but she just couldn't find out where she was going to get the money," said Tiffany, one of the first youngsters to take advantage of the corporate donations.

"Her mom inquired this summer, but didn't enroll her," recalled Principal Kathleen Filippelli. In October, "I was able to call her and say, 'Welcome back.' "

Tiffany is among 125 students receiving the new scholarship funds this year. Archdiocesan officials expect that number to double in the next school year.

Elementary students can receive up to $1,000 a year and high school students up to $2,000. Tuition and fees at the 15 schools average $2,600.

Schools involved in the Partners in Excellence program were chosen by need, location and the number of prospective students in need of financial help.

Overall, the schools have about 3,000 students, more than three-fourths of whom are minority youngsters and two-thirds of whom are non-Catholic. More than half the students come from families with incomes below the poverty level, according to archdiocesan statistics.

In addition to Father Charles A. Hall elementary and middle schools, they are: New All Saints School, St. Ambrose, Holy Spirit, St. Frances Academy, SS. James & John, St. Alphonsus-Basilica, Mother Seton Academy, Cardinal Gibbons, Madonna, St. Katharine, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and Our Lady of Pompei elementary and high schools.

"I can't imagine a more important endeavor " said Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, chairman and chief executive officer of Legg Mason Inc., one of the partners. "We had to keep these schools open. In many parts of the community, they are oases."

Mason said some of the schools only need a few more students to be financially stable, and the corporate help would provide the money to attract those students. Many Catholic schools in the city are underenrolled, while those in suburban areas have waiting lists.

Other partners include: Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., Citicorp Credit Services Inc., First National Bank of Baltimore, Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust Co., USF&G, Whiting-Turner Construction Co., the Abell Foundation and the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund.

Another partner, the Baltimore Community Foundation, will manage and distribute the money for the archdiocese. Archdiocesan officials said the average pledge was $300,000 over three years.

Pub Date: 1/24/97

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