January 25, 2019

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Capital campaigns build community support for Catholic schools

Mary Schmidl, left, Lilah Butz and Henry Schneider, all sixth-graders at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County, place blessed medals of saints in gravel on Nov. 5, 2018, where a foundation was later laid for a new education center at the Batesville Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo)

Mary Schmidl, left, Lilah Butz and Henry Schneider, all sixth-graders at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County, place blessed medals of saints in gravel on Nov. 5, 2018, where a foundation was later laid for a new education center at the Batesville Deanery faith community. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Faith is the foundation of any effort to ensure the future of Catholic education in central and southern Indiana.

The students at St. Nicholas School in Ripley County may know that better than most. When construction on a new education center began at St. Nicholas Parish last year, students placed medals of saints in gravel where the foundation of the new school would be poured.

“I believe that the dedication to prayer for this project by the school children is what has made the rough places smooth during our construction phase,” said Father Shaun Whittington, St. Nicholas’ pastor. “Taking the children onto the site under the supervision of our general contractor to bury the blessed medals was one of my favorite parts of the project so far.”

“Our parishioners have always been a very faith-filled group,” said Sherri Kirschner, St. Nicholas’ principal. “They understand that God is the center of everything. I think the opportunity to spread the good news of Jesus to even more youths of our parish and community excites them as their deep-rooted faith will live on in their children and grandchildren who will graduate from St. Nicholas School.”

The faith of today’s students at St. Nicholas and other schools across the archdiocese is built on the foundation of faith of generations past in central and southern Indiana.

St. Nicholas Parish was founded in 1836, just two years after the establishment of the Diocese of Vincennes, which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Its school was founded in 1859.

At that time, parishioners across central and southern Indiana often came together as a community to put brick and mortar together with their own hands to start a Catholic school.

Community is no less a part of construction projects today than it was generations ago.

It usually happens now through capital campaigns in which parishioners and other school supporters contribute funds for needed improvements, renovations or additions to a school’s campus.

The capital campaign at St. Nicholas that has made its new $3.2 million school building possible is its Heritage Project. The first phase of the project is the construction of the school building, which should be ready for use at the start of the next academic year. Future phases will include constructing a gymnasium and parish life center.

“Capital campaigns always build community,” said Jolinda Moore, executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Stewardship and Development. “In addition to raising money, they also raise excitement and commitment to [the school]. Engagement goes through the roof.”

Moore and other archdiocesan leaders help parishes and schools in the process of making a case for a capital campaign, determining what projects are possible through feasibility studies and then launching a campaign and seeing it through to completion.

Joseph Hollowell, president of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, knows well how capital campaigns build engagement among a school’s supporters.

Serving as the president of the interparochial high school for the Indianapolis South Deanery since 1995, Hollowell has overseen several building projects and capital campaigns, including the current construction of a $6.5 million gymnasium that will seat 2,000 people and is expected to be open for use at the start of the next academic year.

“There’s a real sense of pride that comes from a community that has joined together to build a facility that is of great service to the young people there,” he said. “There’s a real sense of common ownership that builds up the body of Christ.”

Roncalli’s current capital campaign involved more than 100 volunteers who met with five to 10 other people or couples to invite support for the project.

“No one or two people can pull off a capital campaign,” Hollowell said.

Jo Hoy, president of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School, which serves the Indianapolis West Deanery, is leading her first capital campaign. It is a $2 million project to build a new entrance to the school to improve safety and to reclaim four classrooms that have been used as offices in recent years.

“It was resoundingly supported by the fact that we always want to provide a safe environment for our students,” Hoy said. “That’s why we exist, to provide a Catholic education for the families that want it.”

Hoy previously served as Ritter’s principal and has seen how previous building projects and capital campaigns build up the community of people who support the school, especially its alumni.

“It gives them a sense of pride and continues to renew a sense of ownership,” she said. “They remember the reason that their parents sacrificed to send them to Catholic schools. It’s an incredible experience for all of us.” †

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