In January 2012, the Board of Directors at John Paul II Catholic High School embarked on the herculean goal to raise $676,000 and to increase enrollment by 9% by May 1st. Board Chair Eric Grant stated that, "We came into this effort with a purpose: We believe that a Catholic education should be available to all families regardless of financial ability, ethnicity, or religious affiliation."
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - A massive fundraising effort is currently underway in Tallahassee Florida to ensure a stable future for John Paul II Catholic High School, the only Catholic high school between Jacksonville and Pensacola in the Florida panhandle. School administrators, parents and a host of volunteers are praying, persevering and seeing miracles in their endeavor to raise $676,000 and increase enrollment by 9%. This all has to be done by May 1, 2012.
Founded in 2001, the Diocese of Tallahassee-Pensacola had previously been able to provide funding for the operation of JPII. Toward the end of 2011, however, the school's Principal, Sister Ellen Cronan, and the Board of Directors were notified that the diocese could no longer provide its traditional levels of financial support and the school had to become self-funded.
Amidst recent reports of Catholic school closings, it's refreshing to hear of a determined effort to perpetuate Catholic education rather than simply allow the school to close. Not only were administrators and the board committed to moving the school forward, but doing so without raising tuition too aggressively thus putting an undue burden on the school's families.
In their final phase, the school is now focused on broadening their appeal beyond the diocese and the region using a brand new state-of-art social media platform called Crowdtilt. Their goal is to raise $99,000 through Crowdtilt by the Monday after Easter, April 9, 2012.
"In concert with my board of directors," Sr. Ellen shared, "we've decided that the big and caring hearts across the entire Catholic community, across the United States and abroad, should know about our goal and be energized to give at Crowdtilt during this Lenten season."
"Our situation is one that is faced by too many Catholic schools throughout the nation," Sr. Ellen said, "Catholic schools have established a standard of academic excellence and service for generations of students, Catholic or not. Unfortunately, we can no longer assume that Catholic schools will always be here.
"We realize that in order to provide Catholic education it is necessary to chart a new course based on financial independence. This new model challenges all supporters of Catholic education to step forward with generous support."
One of the founders and most fervent supporters of John Paul II is the Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ, Bishop Emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee. When he learned of the campaign, the bishop remarked: "Catholic education has, for generations, been a path to success and achievement for Catholic families and others who have sought a quality education for their children. It is a very important means of reinforcing our belief in the Gospel and endowing future generations with the lessons of faith.
"With this new fundraising goal in mind, the current board of trustees of JPII shares the vision of the founding families of the school. I hope and pray this mission will continue to bear fruit."
Chairman of the Board, Eric Grant, told Catholic Online that, from the beginning, the response has been "nothing short of miraculous."
"As a board, we prayed very hard about the best way to present our dilemma to the parents and teachers. At the PTO meeting, the attendees went from shocked to disgruntled to finding a voice. One person commented toward the end of the meeting, 'Today we have found our voice and it is the voice of the Holy Spirit!"
"This speaks a lot about what is happening in this area," Sr. Ellen commented. "When we presented to the parents, they were aware of the truth of the situation along with our responsibility and people didn't jump ship."
Grant was notified the next day that the PTO had already raised $50,000 and another $50,000 was coming in a check. To date, they have raised around $500,00 toward their goal and have increased attendance by over 11%.
The support from the teachers was equally enthusiastic as they committed themselves to join in the effort.
"By the middle of January," he explained, "we were $16,000 short of our first goal of around $213,000. We met as a board and knew that, if we were going to ask others to participate, we had to step up to the plate ourselves. That night we not only covered our short fall, we raised $20,000!"
Sr. Ellen was also very blessed by the support they had received from the diocese, which had been without a bishop for almost two years.
"The diocese supports us and still provides financial support for administrative functions. Archbishop Wenski (of the Archdiocese of Miami who serves as the diocese's apostolic administrator) gave us an evening to help raise funds. At this wonderful event, we were able to raise well over $100,000."
The school is now about $176,000 short of their goal that has to be raised by May 1st.
"$176,000 is still a long way to go," Grant commented, "We are looking at the future of Catholics in this area and see ourselves as missionaries. Catholic education builds strong Catholic faith."
Although only founded in 2001, the school has amassed a tremendous record for its graduates. Already JPII has produced alumni that make the Catholic population proud, including graduates at Duke University, Boston College, Columbia, the United States Naval Academy and many other prestigious schools. The school also touts a 100% graduation rate.
Here are a few other facts about the students from John Paul II:
-The first graduating class of four students took place in May, 2004. This May will be our 8th graduating class.
-On average, our graduates receive over $1.2 million in college scholarships with an average class size around 32 students
-This year, our first graduate entered the seminary after attending John Paul II CHS for one year. He was not Catholic at the time, attended Florida State University, became involved with the Catholic student union, and converted to Catholicism and wants to become a priest.
-The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that 84% of students attending a Diocesan Catholic high school continue on to attend a 4-year university. Additionally, of all religion-based private high schools, a Diocesan Catholic high school has the highest graduation rate: 99.3% of all students!
-Minority admissions increased so much last year we added an additional van to transport Hispanic students from 30 minutes away, in the small town of Quincy, FL. Most of those students receive scholarship funds from the Step Up for Students scholarship program (corporate tax scholarships) www.stepupforstudents.org and are the first generation to graduate high school.
- So far, three (3) JPII students have been accepted to the United States Naval Academy- two are current midshipmen and one graduated last year.
- Class of 2011- 2 National Merit Scholars (top 1% in Nation) and one National Hispanic Scholar (class of 37) Class of 2010- 1 Presidential Scholar (3 from each STATE), 2 National Merit Scholars
For more information about supporting John Paul II High School, you can visit Crowdtilt at http://tilt.tc/jp2.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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