A Saratoga County parish's tuition assistance program has more than doubled the number of young parishioners attending diocesan schools.
St. Joseph's parish in Greenfield Center and its mission church, St. Paul's in Rock City Falls, created a Catholic school committee three years ago. Since then, the two churches have contributed about $5,000 a year in scholarship funds. The program supports tuition to Saratoga Central Catholic High School, St. Mary's School in Ballston Spa and St. Clement's School in Saratoga.
Three students from the parish transferred to Catholic schools in the committee's first year; last year, there were 12 students who started attending Catholic schools. Some families who received funds previously are beginning to decline the help and continue Catholic education on their own.
The effort began in 2010, when an anonymous parishioner donated a few thousand dollars for education grants. The parish finance committee had always set aside money for that purpose, but their effort was informal.
Five committee members developed an application form that rewards parents and youth for their involvement in the parish, whether they volunteer at special events or become altar servers or, for adults, lay ecclesial ministers. Donations poured in through Catholic Schools Week collections, memorial gifts and parish fundraisers, allowing the committee to award hundreds of dollars to each student.
"Most people we talked to about this did not think it could have been this simple," said Stan Weeks, the parishioner who chaired the committee for three years. He stepped down recently to chair the school board at Saratoga Central Catholic High.
A convert who did not attend Catholic schools himself, Dr. Weeks said he believes "very strongly in small schools. That kind of attention is a big deal, and to have it be a faith-based education in today's society is a huge deal."
The committee twice arranged for Catholic school students to speak at Masses during Catholic Schools Week to give testimony to their experiences.
"There's no better way to advertise and promote Catholic education," Dr. Weeks told The Evangelist. "It puts a face on [it], which we think is one of the most important things."
He said Catholic school students will someday be leaders in the Church, so he encourages nearby parishes to recruit speakers and launch similar programs.
"We're trying to keep Catholic schools up front in people's minds, so it's not just a once-a-year thing," Dr. Weeks said. "That's an important part of the future of the Catholic Church."