Trinity Catholic High School gets boost from $2 million grant for scholarships

Lisa Johnston |

The phone call arrived on a Saturday morning at her home in Ferguson, and Sister Karl Mary Winkelmann had to sit down after Sharon Gerken of the archdiocesan Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation delivered the news.

But this wasn't the type of news usually associated with having to sit down, bad news such as a death in the family or a similar tragedy.

It was good ... no, make that great news.

Trinity Catholic High School, where Sister Karl Mary serves as president, would be getting a major financial gift — a whopping financial gift.

"She said it was $2 million," said Sister Karl Mary, a School Sister of Notre Dame. "I could not speak. Literally, I couldn't talk; I was in shock. I was totally speechless. I had to sit down: 'What just happened?' ... It's just fantastic."

The gift is from the SOAR! Scholarship Fund via the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri. The acronym SOAR! stands for St. Louis Opportunity and Achievement Realized, with the fund financing tuition assistance to under-served students attending or wishing to attend select Catholic grade or high schools in St. Louis City and north St. Louis County. The fund's seed money came from Jack C. Taylor and family of Enterprise fame.

Trinity Catholic will receive the funds over five years in the form of tuition assistance. In addition to $100,000 grants the past two years from Archbishop Robert J. Carlson via the Annual Catholic Appeal, the $2 million make Trinity Catholic's already affordable tuition — $9,000 for Catholic students, $9,575 for students of other religions — more affordable for North County families.

Now part of the school's Comprehensive Scholarship Program, the SOAR! Scholarships will finance 40 need-based scholarships worth $4,000 each for students in households with annual incomes ranging from $45,620 or less to a maximum of $65,620. The scholarships are renewable for all four years of high school. Trinity Catholic also offers multiple merit scholarships — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Catholic Education scholarships — of $3,000 to $4,000, plus five "Tradition" Scholarships of between $500 and $2,000.

In addition, ACA's grants fund automatic scholarships of $1,500 for incoming freshmen, with an additional $500 at an enrollment deadline. Those scholarships also are renewable for four years.

"Thanks to the ongoing commitment of Archbishop Carlson and this incredible gift, this is going to ensure that Trinity's viability for the future for education for North County teens is intact," Sister Karl Mary said.

Enrollment has remained stable at around 280 for the past three years after falling from 425 in the 2009-10 school year. Trinity Catholic represents the only option north of Interstate 270 for Catholic secondary education, and the option has contracted in the past 30 years. Mercy, St. Thomas Aquinas and Rosary high schools once educated North County teenagers, but Mercy and Aquinas merged in 1985, then merged with Rosary to form Trinity in 2003.

Mark Guyol, the head of the Roman Catholic Foundation, has called Trinity "a beacon of light in North St. Louis County for families who desire a faith based, superior and affordable education. Providing these scholarships is a strong investment in the future of the Trinity students, as well as the entire North County community."

Educating students in a 1950s facility, Trinity Catholic has been successful in its mission over the years, graduating 99 percent of its students compared with 67 percent of public school peers and sending 98 percent of its students to colleges, universities or trade schools.

Not bad considering the expectations of some when Trinity was formed in '03.

"I can't tell you the number of people who said Trinity wouldn't make it three years, but now, we're in our 13th year," Sister Karl Mary said. "I'm always saying, 'if God wants Trinity here in North County, it'll be here.'"

For Sister Karl Mary, that Saturday morning phone call was an emphatic answer to many prayers over the years, usually modestly answered with generous but more modest financial gifts.

"We've never ever had gifts over $200,000; to be told $2 million ... it's incredible," said Sister Karl Mary, who sees a Divine hand in the gift. "This gift came from God, through Mr. Taylor and the Roman Catholic Foundation. The thing that's remarkable is I didn't do anything. I didn't ask for this. The other gifts I had to ask for them. This just happened."

She was overcome with emotion when she told faculty about the gift at a meeting before the school year.

"Jaws dropped," said Kevin McKenna, a Trinity graduate who returned as advancement director after graduating from Truman State in May. "It's validation that what we're doing here is amazing. To start your school year knowing something that good is happening, it just gives you that extra boost of energy to start year." 

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