By Mike Wescott
The story of the St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund goes back 20 years to the Catholic School Congress which was held in the late 1990s to consider the future of our Catholic schools. The idea of creating a fund to assist parishes that struggle financially to support Catholic school education was initially conceived there. Coincidentally, I was a participant in that Congress, having at the time all six of our kids enrolled in diocesan Catholic schools.
Several efforts were made over the course of the subsequent five years to build on that vision. One was “Supper with the Superintendent,” a creative way Superintendent of Schools Bob Voboril helped Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish send more kids to Catholic Schools. For some time before that, Holy Savior Catholic Academy had hosted auctions and dinners to support their school.
In 2005, soon after the arrival of Bishop Michael O. Jackels, the fund was named after the first American born saint, St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), as a tribute to a woman who gave away her family fortune to help the Indian and Black children needing an education. Bishop Jackels went further to provide an initial gift to the fund of the proceeds from his episcopal ordination as the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Wichita. It was then that the process for asking for the generous support from those who have a strong belief in Catholic school education started.
The TOGETHER Vision, a diocesan capital campaign from 2010 to 2012, provided support to the Drexel fund endowment, eventually adding $6 million to the several endowments that benefit Drexel supported schools.
In 2013 the fund expanded to include support from our Wichita area high schools, Wichita metro area parishes, and a new diocesan-wide appeal. The expansion allowed area pastors to send more of their grade school students to Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mt. Carmel high schools.
For the 24 parishes that support a Catholic school education and meet the criteria for participation, the fund has been a life line. No longer are there conversations about whether or not a school can reopen next year – and hopefully those days are gone.
Students leaving the schools that feed into Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mt. Carmel are no longer uncertain if they can attend a Catholic high school due to lack of funding – and hopefully those days are also over. In addition, pastors and principals are better assured of the sustainability of funds such that they can build programs at their schools for the future.
Many thanks are due to the alumni of our schools, many generous households that annually support Catholic education and the great vision of our bishops and pastors who work tirelessly to promote and advance the cause of Catholic school education. We are a blessed and enriched diocese for many reasons, most especially for the gift that Catholic school education is available to many in our diocese.
Wescott is director of Development and Planned Giving for the diocese.