Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Catholic schools: an investment through partnerships

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

As we celebrated Catholic Schools Week this year, I was reminded of the many partnerships that have made them possible throughout our country. Growing up in an immigrant community in south Omaha, my eight brothers and sisters and I were able to get a Catholic school education because of the sacrifices made by my parents and grandparents.

Such sacrifices were matched by so many others. First and foremost were the religious women who taught us, who gave not just time, treasure and talent but their very lives to make our education possible. The archbishop, pastor and parishioners also joined this effort, as they provided necessary resources by way of personnel, financial and material support.

All of that can be said of our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago. From 1846, when the Sisters of Mercy came to “a village sinking in mud,” which was how Chicago was once described, and opened the first free schools in the city, the Catholic Church has made a commitment to the mothers and fathers of Chicago. We have promised to help them bring their children up in faith and knowledge, a promise that even in our own day benefits many who are not Catholic.

For 175 years, the people of this local church, successive generations of religious, pastors, bishops and donors have contributed their human, material and financial resources, which in fact involved billions of dollars, to keep that promise. This investment has yielded a great harvest.

In our lifetime, new partners have stepped forward. Over three decades ago, my predecessor of happy memory Cardinal Joseph Bernardin reached out to business leaders and created the Big Shoulders Fund. He was confident that he could leverage the great contributions of religious, pastors, parishioners and the entire archdiocese to invite the city’s commercial enterprises to offer support to our schools, particularly those serving lower-income families. He was right.

The Big Shoulders Fund has partnered with the Archdiocese of Chicago by contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to our schools over the past 34 years, giving a much-needed boost to the annual support provided by the archdiocese and our parishes.

Last week we announced a new stage in our partnership, which in fact is a partnership with families. The fund and the archdiocese together will contribute more than $90 million over the next decade to assist Catholic schools mostly on the city’s South and West Sides. Big Shoulders will assume greater leadership responsibility in the 30 schools included in the agreement.

 We appreciate this decades-old partnership and look forward to working cooperatively. I am profoundly grateful for the generosity of Big Shoulders donors, who will make possible this new stage in our partnership.

Likewise, I appreciate the continued commitment of donors in our parishes, whose gifts will allow us to meet both the obligations of this agreement and our commitment to assist other schools outside of these 30.

Another recent partnership with our Catholic school families has come by way of the Tax Credit Scholarship program. The State of Illinois allows a 75% tax credit for those donating to a scholarship granting organization, such as Empower Illinois, which in turn provides tuition assistance allowing lower-income families to send their children to the school of their choice. So far, Illinois families have received nearly $100 million of aid through this essential program. This is a great partnership with families that needs to grow.

Finally, I want to take this occasion to thank Congressman Daniel Lipinski for introducing a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 14 in support of the contributions of Catholic schools. We appreciate this and all such recognitions from our elected officials, which is another form of partnership that benefits families whose children are enrolled in Catholic schools. I thank Congressman Lipinski for his leadership in this and many other areas that serve the common good. 

It has been said that we can get a lot done if we do not care who gets the credit. Partnerships require that kind of attitude. The hope of our many Catholic school partners is that all children will have a chance at a bright future. That common goal should be the only motivation we ever need to work together in doing great things for the good of others.


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