At the beginning of the school year, Father Matt Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, had to deliver some difficult news to the students, teachers and parents of the Holy Family School – due to financial challenges, the school would have to close at the end of the school year unless they received sufficient funds to keep it open.
Thankfully, in early December, the school received surprising news that an anonymous donor had given them $200,000 to help the school remain open. But that didn’t stop the generosity of other Catholic school principals in the Archdiocese of Washington, whose plans to help their fellow Catholic school were already in the works.
“I thought, if we had a tag day, and spread it out through all the schools in Archdiocese of Washington, we could come up with a big bunch of change,” said Maria Bovich, the principal of Holy Redeemer School in College Park, Maryland.
Glenn Benjamin, the principal of St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville, Maryland, took that idea and ran with it. He led an effort to coordinate fundraisers in Catholic schools around the Archdiocese of Washington, which have so far raised more than $10,000.
“It has been so heartwarming and overwhelming for all of us here – myself, my teachers and my staff,” said Michelle Taylor, the principal of Holy Family School. “Many of the kind words and letters, and of course the financial support, brought me to tears. It feels so good to know that people care.”
Noting how appreciative she is of the support from her colleagues and from the Catholic Schools Office, Taylor said, “It has been rough. It has been a tough storm to go through, but God is faithful, and with my faith -filled supervisors and colleagues, it has helped me get through.”
St. Jude Regional Catholic School held a bake sale and a tag day in December, which raised about $400, in addition to the school donating a sum of $1,000. At Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, they decided to charge $2 – twice the amount as usual – for students to come in out of uniform for their tag day. Also at Blessed Sacrament, the teachers all volunteered to bring in baked goods for a bake sale in support of Holy Family, which along with the tag day raised a total of $1,687.
“Blessed Sacrament has always been a place where we have a lot of blessings,” said Chris Kelly, the school’s principal. “…We pride ourselves on our efforts to work with Catholic social issues and helping other people who may be struggling or need extra help.”
Blessed Sacrament also sent handmade Christmas cards for each staff member at Holy Family School, including a $5 Starbucks gift card.
At Holy Redeemer Parish in College Park, every time there is a fifth Sunday in the month, the parish takes up a collection for Holy Redeemer School. But when that special collection fell on the Feast of the Holy Family in December, the school decided it was only fitting to instead give the funds raised in that collection to Holy Family School. Those donations, in addition to the funds raised by a school tag day, totaled $1,618.
“I have been here at Holy Redeemer for 11 years and I’ve seen my neighboring schools close – St. Hugh’s, St. Mark's – and my children went to a neighboring school, St. Jerome, that was for a while on hard times,” said Bovich. “So as a mom, seeing where something so precious as the Catholic education they received was going to be no more, [and] for all other young families and children, it cuts very deep.”
All three principals used this opportunity as a teachable moment for the students, helping to refocus them on Gospel values of helping their neighbor.
“The ultimate message that we get every Sunday is to take care of each other,” said Benjamin. “We need to step up to the example Jesus gave us to take care of each other. Sometimes that means bake sales, sometimes that means soup kitchens – It means a lot of different things.”
Since the fundraisers were happening around Christmas time, Kelly said his message to the students had to do with giving gifts to others.
“The most important thing I think you can give someone else is the gift of a Catholic education,” he said, adding that he told the students that their parents were giving them that gift already. “This was an opportunity to help another Catholic school continue to give that gift to their children.”
Bovich said she emphasized to the students at Holy Redeemer that the students at Holy Family were just like them and they wanted to keep their school. As a result, she said the students started thinking how they could help, and started to offer things like sending the school their extra paper and bringing in their birthday money to donate.
“They were trying to figure out in their own little world what they can do,” said Bovich, who noted that the students still ask about how Holy Family is doing.
“It makes you feel good, because there is so much negativity out there right now, but in reality, there is so much positive, at least in what I’m surrounded by at Holy Redeemer and my fellow principals and their communities,” said Bovich.
Noting the difficult times the Church has been through recently, Laura Fetters, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament, said in an e-mail to the Catholic Standard she believes “it is a critical time for us to remember that we (the laity) are the Church: a Body of Christ that serves one another and that spreads the Gospel messages of God's love and mercy.”
“One component of our amazing [Archdiocese of Washington] Catholic community is the Catholic school network,” she continued. “We meet together yearly and learn from one another, constantly encouraging fellow teachers to keep the Catholic mission alive and also sharing ideas regarding ways that we an help our students become faithful disciples. It only makes sense that when we learn of another ADW school's hardship, that we would want to help. There is no greater mission than this – to love one another.”
Father Matt Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish, said when they began the fundraising, the situation felt dire, but “to know how much people believe in you inspires you to have hope in yourself."
“When you feel the support of other parishes, it really communicates that we are a part of one particular Church, one family in this archdiocese,” he said. “In a city that can be so divided, in this relatively large archdiocese, parishes from all over are helping us and supporting us because they believe in this unity, this mission we are all in together. It gives us this sense of ‘Yeah, we can do this.’”
(For more information about Holy Family School and the effort to sustain its future, go to holyfamilymd.org.)
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