‘Beyond Sunday’ campaign already pays benefits

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Catholic education runs in Beth Zoellner's family, so it's no surprise that Beth and husband Jason's three children — Autumn, Tyler and Reese — are in St. Vincent de Paul School in Perryville.

As of May 27, Autumn, 16, is a rising junior in the high school, with Tyler, 12, entering seventh grade and Reese, 9, fourth.

Beth Zoellner graduated high school from St. Vincent de Paul in 1997, and her mom and dad, Dianne and Larry Brown, graduated in 1969. Beth's grandmother Rosettia Bohnert only went to school through eighth grade but it was in a Catholic school.

Thus, Catholic education for the Zoellner kids never was in doubt, though financially it's been tight. The Zoellners were ready to bite the bullet again and make it work ... until the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri made life a little bit easier for them and similar middle-income families in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The Zoellner children are among the first recipients of the Foundation's Beyond Sunday scholarships, with more than $1.8 million to be distributed to nearly 1,100 grade school and high school students, starting with the 2016-17 school year. Depending on family income, the scholarships range from $500 to $2,000 per year for grade school students and from $1,000 to $4,000 per year for high school students.

The scholarship students attend more than 120 schools, representing about 85 percent of the 140 schools in the archdiocese.

"It really helps our family," Beth Zoellner said. "We've had generations and generations going to a Catholic school, so either way we were going to send our kids to a Catholic school, but it truly helps not having to struggle.

"We would have had to figure out how to do it, but we would have done it. This makes a huge difference."

This was the vision in 2013 when the Roman Catholic Foundation was formed at the behest of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson: to make Catholic education more affordable for middle-income families. Many make too much money to qualify for Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation scholarships for lower income families, but they don't make enough money to pay outright for Catholic schools tuition as do higher income families.

The Beyond Sunday campaign began just last summer, with a goal of $100 million to fund scholarships for middle-income families. It's the largest capital campaign in archdiocese history, double the $50 million goal of the Faith for the Future campaign to benefit Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. That campaign, which brought in pledges of $61 million, financed renovations, new construction and more at the seminary, transforming a dated complex into a state-of-the-art campus for future priests.

From the outset, the Roman Catholic Foundation's vision has been clear, to help middle-income families, but the fund distribution plan was adjusted last year.

Initially, the plan was to complete the campaign, about a year and a half long, then build the Beyond Sunday Education Fund, an endowed fund, over the next five years of pledge collection. For instance, if a couple pledges $10,000 to the campaign, they contribute $2,000 a year for five years to meet the pledge. Scholarships would commence at that time, after the pledges would have been collected in full.

But that would have meant waiting to give scholarships until 2021, six years after the campaign started, which was way too distant in the future. So foundation CEO Mark Guyol revamped the distribution plan and took a proposal to the board of directors to still build the endowment but to use early proceeds immediately for scholarships.

The board unanimously approved the "enhanced spending policy, so we could make an immediate impact in the first five years," Guyol said. "It's pretty exciting that 1,100 students will start benefiting in August, three months from now, and we haven't been through all of the parishes and asked all the folks to prayerfully make their pledges. It's pretty exciting that we're going to do good before the campaign is even over."

The campaign is roughly at the halfway point, in the midst of the second in three blocks of parishes. Symmetrically, the campaign also is halfway to its goal, with $50 million pledged to date. Best of all, the Zoellners and similar middle-income families will benefit in the coming school year.

"We view it as a 'hand-up,' not a 'handout,'" said Father Kevin Schmittgens, president of St. Francis Borgia High School, where 20 students are getting financial assistance. "We're thrilled that we're able to be more competitive and affordable with these scholarships. I truly believe that stronger schools benefit the entire community, and, thanks to Beyond Sunday, we're raising the bar even higher on quality education."

In addition to helping students, the Beyond Sunday Education Fund also has two grant-making components, for STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics) curricula investments and Innovation grants to parish and archdiocesan schools, with individual grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. The application process for the grants will be open from late 2016 until early 2017, with awardees notified by March 1.

Students will reap benefits from these grants and scholarships for years to come.

"As the world is becoming more and more confusing to our young people, especially with all the moral issues in our changing culture, it's critical that students have affordable access to Catholic education at schools like ours, which allow them to thrive both academically and spiritually," said Father Dan Shaughnessy, pastor at St. Joseph of Imperial, adding that Catholic schools are "a means of education and discipleship." 

Parishes reap benefits

A novel aspect of the Beyond Sunday campaign is that it also benefits individual parishes in addition to benefiting Catholic education in scholarships for middle-income families and in grants to schools for STREAM curricula and innovative programs.

Each parish receives 40 percent of its parishioners' pledges to use as needed to fund endowments, infrastructure upgrades, ministries, faith programs and more. For instance, if parishioners pledge $1 million, their parish gets $400,000 in return in twice yearly disbursements over a five-year span.

The Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, which administers Beyond Sunday, recently made its first disbursement — $2.37 million to 45 parishes from the first block of the campaign.

While the campaign will benefit families, schools and parishes in the short term, it will do so well into the future.

"The campaign is about our faith, our salvation, and, ultimately, the future of our local Catholic church," foundation CEO Mark Guyol said. "Our parishes and Catholic schools must be vibrant to prepare and nurture the next generation of Catholics." 

SOAR!-ing at St. Mary's High School

Through the SOAR! (St. Louis Opportunity and Achievement Realized) Scholarship Fund, the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri recently gave St. Mary's High School in south St. Louis $150,000, enough to enroll five additional students for the next five years. Established last year, SOAR! provides tuition assistance to underserved students attending or wishing to attend select Catholic elementary or high schools in the City of St. Louis and North St. Louis County. RubinBrown, a certified public accounting and business consulting firm in Clayton, is funding the gift through SOAR to be allocated to St. Mary's.

"In addition to providing a high-quality Catholic and college-preparatory education, our top priority is the continued evangelization of our students by providing them with a strong foundation of faith and spirituality," stated Mike England, president of St. Mary's. "Most important, thanks to the SOAR! Scholarship Fund, we'll be able to increase the number of south St. Louis students, who never thought they'd have the opportunity for a Catholic education, and extend our mission of making our school more accessible to all." 

No votes yet