Chicagoland

Catholic high schools offering financial help to families affected by COVID-19

By Michelle Martin
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Catholic high schools across the Chicago area have been looking for ways to provide more financial help for students and families since the COVID-19 pandemic first shut the doors of schools and most businesses last spring.

They’ve taken measures from across-the-board tuition discounts to increased fundraising and partnerships to digging into their savings accounts. One thing they all agree on: None of them wants to lose students whose families have lost income because of the pandemic.

At Trinity High School in River Forest, leaders agreed to take $1 million from the school’s strategic reserves — essentially, a rainy day fund — and use it for families that suddenly couldn’t pay their full tuition, said Laura Curley, the school’s president.

The school also shifted its spring gala to an online fundraiser and brought in $220,000 for tuition relief.

“Our goal was that between spring of last year and fall of this year, we would not lose any students because of finances,” Curley said. “This is a crisis, and that’s what families do in a crisis. Family helps family as long as they are able to.”

To make it work, the school created a special application form that was handled within the school, asking families what their situation was and how much they thought they could afford to pay.

About 80 of roughly 380 school families applied, and the school was also able to open it up to incoming freshmen who had taken the entrance exam in December and registered in February, the month before the pandemic hit, Curley said.

While some students did not return because of family moves or other reasons, none left because they were short of money after a parent lost a job or had their hours cut, Curley said.

“That’s important to us,” Curley said. “We say we’re a family, and we’d be missing them if they were gone.”

John Malloy, chief operating officer at Holy Trinity High School, 1443 W. Division St., said the school jumped into action as soon as businesses, bars and restaurants were forced to close last spring.

“When the pandemic first began in March, we opened up emergency financial aid that families could apply for,” he said. “Fortunately, at that point, we only had three months left of the school year and three months of tuition left. We did have several apply and we were able to help them.”

Last spring, 44 families asked for emergency help, and the school was able to give them $25,000, half of which came from the Big Shoulders Fund.

The school saw more families apply for financial aid this school year, something Malloy expects to continue.

“We’ve seen families who have not previously applied for financial aid applying, and we’ve seen families who already get financial aid needing more,” he said. “We’ve been appealing to our donors to increase their support in these challenging times. We’ve also seen our scholarship partners step up. Big Shoulders Fund has helped us address families who have been affected by COVID so we can offer more aid.”

Big Shoulders Fund helped with an effort to support both families who work in the hospitality and restaurant industry and those who worried about being able to buy food, providing vouchers for families to buy take-out meals from restaurants that are owned by or employ Holy Trinity families, Malloy said.

“We have a number of families who work in food service or the hospitality industry and small businesses that have been disproportionately affected,” Malloy said. “They wanted to do something creative that would help in two ways.”

Holy Trinity also started its own emergency fund and is urging alumni and other donors to be generous.

So far, the measures have paid off.

“We’ve seen a small growth in our enrollment since the pandemic began,” Malloy said, noting that the enrollment stands at 340 students. “There is a lot of interest in the in-person option.”

Students who choose in-person instruction at Holy Trinity attend classes on a hybrid schedule, as is the case at most Catholic high schools. They can also choose full-time remote learning, and the school did go to full remote learning for two weeks in October after someone tested positive for COVID-19.

Students at St. Patrick High School, 5900 W. Belmont Ave., also can attend in-person half the time on a hybrid schedule, with half the 550 students in the building at a time, although some have chosen full-time remote learning, said President Joe Schmidt.

Everyone has had difficulties caused by the pandemic, Schmidt said, so the school decided to make things a little easier for everyone by offering a one-year tuition reduction.

“We’re helping our families with a $500 reduction this year,” Schmidt said. “So many of our families, three-quarters of them, receive some kind of financial assistance to attend St. Patrick’s. There’s a number that have had some tough times with this COVID, so it came at a good time. We’re just going to absorb the credit for this year. The reality is those families work hard and sacrifice to send their sons to our school.”

Families that need more help have been able to get it by going through the usual financial aid application process, Schmidt said.

The school has also launched its “Shamrock Cares” fund, with a goal of $500,000, to help families going forward.

“We’re getting the word out to our alumni,” Schmidt said. “They’ve been responsive.”

Families at all three schools are happy to have their children in classrooms, school officials said, but it’s far from a normal year.

“There are so many challenges,” Trinity’s Curley said. The biggest is not being able to gather as one community in prayer or celebration.

But another is not knowing what the future will bring.

“We’re really all taking this one day at a time,” she said.

Topics:

  • catholic schools
  • covid-19
  • high schools

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