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Sister Maureen Fitzgerald, principal of St. Rita School in Hamden, talks with Betsy and Ronald Bathrick and three of their children, from left, Raechel and twins Rylee and Reaghan. Click here to enlarge. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
HARTFORD Thanks to the Archbishops Annual Appeal, hundreds of families with children in elementary schools have received tuition assistance that keeps their dream of providing a Catholic education for their children alive.
As families struggle with the current economic crisis, job loss and stressed budgets, financial assistance is becoming increasingly important.
"Its greatly, greatly appreciated," said Betsy Bathrick, who, with her husband Ronald, have sent five of their children to St. Rita School in Hamden, including two who now are in college.
"Catholic education is a wonderful thing; but at times when money is tight, it can be a hardship," she said.
"But we cant say enough good about the school and about the benefits of a Catholic education for our children," she continued. "Its extremely important to us, and we can see the benefits it provides for our children that last a lifetime."
Last year, the Archbishops Annual Appeal provided $15,000 in assistance to each of the Archdioceses 56 parish schools, with awards averaging $500 per student. There are 12,770 students enrolled in the archdiocesan elementary schools.
For families enrolling more than one child, at an average tuition of $3,129 per student, the assistance becomes even more meaningful.
"The need for financial assistance is increasing, especially with the economy and the growing number of people being laid off," said Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese. "Yet, many families remain committed to giving their children a Catholic education."
Mr. Hoyt noted that the tuition assistance program, which began under the direction of Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, is "extremely rare" among Catholic dioceses. He said its existence underscores the Archbishops deep commitment to Catholic education.
"The tuition assistance program," along with other scholarships, grants and parish support programs, "gives every school in the Archdiocese an opportunity to provide financial assistance," he said.
School officials see a clear benefit from helping parents with tuition costs.
"Its absolutely important to be able to provide tuition assistance," said Carol Schweitzer, principal of St. Ann School in Milford. "For many, it makes all the difference in being able to send them to a Catholic school."
Sister Maureen Fitzgerald, principal of St. Rita School, agreed. "Many families wouldnt be able to afford Catholic education without the tuition assistance," said Sister Maureen, who is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Even though it may not seem like a lot of money, she noted, "parents are encouraged by the fact that somebody recognized their need and offered to help them often giving them a boost to say, Let me see what more I can do."
In a thank-you letter to Mr. Hoyt, a mother of children at St. Francis School in New Haven acknowledged the familys financial struggle to keep their children enrolled, but added, "It would be heartbreaking to our children if they had to go to another school.
"When you ask them, How was your day? and they all try to speak over each other because they are excited and happy, they had a good day," she wrote, then "these are some of the rewards that help us know weve made the right choice to send our children to a Catholic school."
Similarly, Scott Nugent, a parent of three boys at St. Rita School, noted, "We have a new 30 million-dollar public school within walking distance. So for my wife and me, its a real commitment to send our children to St. Ritas.
"We understand how important it is to make tuition assistance available to as many people as possible," said Mr. Nugent.
"The appeal does so much for so many," he continued, "but, for us, it helps with the Catholic education of our children, which is important to us. We feel committed to the Church; plus with three boys, I would do whatever I could to foster a vocation."
For some families, providing a Catholic education is the continuation of a legacy.
"We believe that providing a Catholic education for our sons is a valuable and important commitment," said Robert and Lisa Wiecki, whose sons attend Sacred Heart School in New Britain, in a thank-you note to Mr. Hoyt. The financial assistance received, Mrs. Wiecki said, "allows us to continue to send them to a school that both my husband and I attended 20 years ago."