Foundation supports values-based leaders

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, September 18, 2016

Arthur J. Schmitt might not be a household name, but his legacy has had a lasting effect on generations of student leaders at Catholic high schools and institutions of higher learning in the Chicago area.

Schmitt dropped out of St. Ignatius High School and made his fortune as an inventor and electrical engineer in the years leading up to and during World War II. Now the foundation that bears his name provides financial support for the education of student leaders at several Catholic institutions, including DePaul University, the University of Notre Dame and Benedictine University. It also partners with scholarship organizations that help teenagers attend private and Catholic schools, said Pat Shevlin, the foundation’s executive director.

“He thought what this world really needs is good, values-based leaders,” said Pat Shevlin, the foundation’s executive director.

Schmitt originally tried to develop those leaders through the creation of his own school, the Fournier Institute in Lemont, in 1941. The school offered 11th grade through college education to the best and brightest young men, with a dual focus on science and leadership.

Within a few years, it became clear that the college could not provide the kind of postgraduate education necessary in a rapidly changing scientific and technological environment, so Schmitt closed the school and focused on offering scholarships.

Today, its university partners use the grant money to create their own scholarship programs.

For example, at Benedictine University in Lisle, the business school administers a scholarship program open to students in all undergraduate majors, said Sandra Gill, dean of Benedictine’s School of Business.

Ten recipients each year receive a $5,000 scholarship, which is a major award at Benedictine, she said. Those who are chosen attend meetings at least monthly, participate in major service projects and attend two full-day workshops that take advantage of the research done by the business school’s doctoral program in values-based leadership.

Then, each recipient designs, creates and executes a major community-service project. That includes raising the money needed, recruiting and supervising volunteers and seeing the project through to completion, Gill said.

One example is the building of the Gateway to Laughter playground for children and families with disabilities at Aurora’s John Gates Elementary School. Benedictine student Aimee Ford did everything from devising a plan to raising $20,000 “to getting the football players out there to spread the mulch,” Gill said.

Once they are completed, the scholars present their projects to Schmitt Foundation board members and to their families.

The focus on taking leadership in service projects extends to the high-school scholarship funds that work with the Schmitt Foundation.

“We love the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation for what they do for our scholars,” said Paul Morgan, program director at the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund.

The Murphy Foundation names four to six Schmitt Murphy Scholars each year, and designates them as leaders for the wider community of Murphy Scholars, Morgan explained. As part of that, they give 50 to 100 hours a year in planning meetings, leadership training and coordinating and participating in service projects. By the time the students are high school seniors, they are asked to work together to plan and execute a community-service project on their own.

While the Murphy fund works with dozens of private schools, many of its scholars attend Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.

Morgan said that one of the advantages of its partnership with the Schmitt Foundation is that the leadership ideals touch all of the Murphy scholars through the activities of the students who are named Schmitt Murphy scholars.

Mark Duhon, executive director of HighSight, said his organizations sets similar standards for its Schmitt scholars.

HighSight provides scholarships to make private high-school education affordable for students who otherwise would not be able to pay for it. Eleven of the 12 high schools HighSight works with are Catholic.

HighSight chooses its Schmitt Scholars based on the leadership roles they have taken in their schools and other organizations. In addition to the scholarship, the Schmitt Scholars get advanced leadership development. “More is asked of them,” Duhon said.

Most years, HighSight names between 16 and 32 Schmitt Scholars.

“The Schmitt Foundation has challenged us as an organization in terms of what we do with leadership,” Duhon said, adding that the two programs have worked together for nearly 20 years.

The foundation’s support makes students aware that people they have never met are concerned with their development and their accomplishments.

“They see they have to take advantage of those opportunities when they come around,” Duhon said.


  • catholic schools
  • depaul university
  • st. ignatius high school
  • university of notre dame
  • benedictine university
  • arthur j. schmitt
  • scholarships
  • daniel murphy scholarship fund
  • schmitt scholars
  • highsight

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