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Value of Catholic education inspires campaign’s volunteer leaders

As Bishop Earl Boyea spoke with volunteer leaders of the Diocese of Lansing’s current capital campaign during an orientation earlier this year, his words were plain and simple:  

“We can’t do this without you.” 

“This” is the $70 million Stewardship for Saints and Scholars campaign focusing on Catholic education in the diocese. Diocesan and volunteer leaders have been working for months on preparations, creating materials and reaching out to potential supporters who can help give the campaign momentum as it approaches an August public kickoff. 

The volunteer leadership team sees this campaign as critical for the future of Catholic families, their communities and the Catholic Church. 

“Right now, of all times, the culture is pulling our kids away from what the reality is, what the truth is, and Catholic schools have the opportunity to teach kids the truth,” said Elaine Crosby, a general chair of the campaign and director of parishioner engagement at Queen of the Miraculous Medal in Jackson. “They’re still going to live in the world, but they’re going to be equipped a little better to handle things as they come at them, to discern what’s truth and what isn’t.” 

For Mike and Emily Hanley of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Ann Arbor, equipping their nine children “to take their faith out into the world and go evangelize and share the Good News with people who increasingly are living in darker times” is a key reason they embrace Catholic education. 

“This generation of kids that is growing up today are the future leaders of our institutions, of our Church, of our communities and of their own families,” Mike says. “Even if you don’t have kids in school, you can still see that these kids who are in school today are going to be the future leaders of the community, and an investment in them is an investment in our collective future.”

The Stewardship for Saints and Scholars campaign’s priorities include: 

  • On-mission: Attract, form, train and retain excellent, faithful teachers and administrators. 
  • Affordable: Substantially grow financial assistance available to current and new school families. 
  • Accessible: Improve assistance for children with special needs while also providing funds to enhance services through the four regional diocesan high schools. 
  • Local Initiatives: Invest in parish school, religious education/faith formation, parish-sponsored homeschool initiatives or other urgent, local needs. 

Those priorities inspire the Hanleys’ support of what they consider an already strong Catholic school system. 

“It’s great that we have so many strong schools already in the diocese,” Mike says. “But knowing that there are some places that don’t have schools, knowing that we have parishioners who are teachers who sit right next to us who aren’t getting a wage that’s competitive with the public school system and wanting to be able to support them, providing options for families that have situations like special needs … I feel like those are all really, really important, especially now with the rate of change we’re seeing in the world around us. 

“I think the bishop has the right idea, which is ‘Support the kids.’ These are such important, formative years. If we want to win back hearts and minds and really form saints, that’s going to be such an important time to do it. That feels like it’s worthy of our time and attention and focus and resources.” 

Special aspects of the Catholic school system are crucial for their family, which includes six students at St. Thomas, Mike says. “The small class setting, being able to openly ask questions, to have faith not be an ‘add-on’ but be a ‘built-in’ — faith and virtue are just a part of everything they do.” 

The affordability priority of the campaign hits close to home for Crosby, former president of Lumen Christi Catholic School, Jackson’s Catholic middle school/high school. 

“Having been the president and having been involved in enrollment and people leaving, their first thing is always financial,” she says. “It’s expensive. Then with inflation — people are really being hurt by it.” 

If the campaign can increase affordability for families, it will increase the schools’ ability to attract and retain students, she says.

Crosby says that attracting and retaining teachers is also important. At the Jackson Catholic Schools (Lumen Christi and three parish schools), they have been able to increase teacher pay to 80 percent to 90 percent of public school pay, with the help, in part, of a million-dollar estate gift. 

“We’ll need help keeping that going,” she says. “Our teachers are awesome around our diocese. Catholic school teachers are the best because they’re doing it not because they had to have a job — they can get a job anywhere as a teacher — but because they want to teach in the Catholic school and be able to talk about their faith.” 

As volunteers, one of the tasks for Crosby and the Hanleys is to follow up with others who have been asked for a gift to the campaign. As the campaign widens, there will be a need for volunteers at parishes across the diocese. Parishioners may have doubts about their prospective roles, but Mike and Elaine want to ease any anxiety. 

“It’s normal to be uncomfortable asking for money, and that’s OK,” Mike says. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with other parishioners or just be an advocate for what’s happening in the schools and supporting the school system. 

“It’s a gift to a higher cause, whether it’s time or talent or treasure.” 

“Once you’ve made your gift, it’s a lot easier to talk to people,” Elaine says. “And you’re just going to be talking to them, you’re not going to say to them, ‘Give me $25,000.’ They’re going to make their decision, and you’re just going to be encouraging them and telling them why you’ve given a gift.”  

It’s not cold calling, she says. “It’s more like being the cheerleader for the campaign.” 

For Mike, that cheerleading includes his assessment of what his children are getting through their education.

“We have so much confusion about what is good in today’s environment that getting an authentic Catholic education on what’s good and true and beautiful is probably the most essential gift that I can give them. 

“There is such overwhelming beauty in Catholic education, and when I see the education my children are getting, it’s the education I wish I got. It’s so beautiful what they’re doing.”