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Springfield parish offers scholarships to move children to Catholic schools

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Caroline Ganthier attended Catholic school growing up, and though she always wanted her daughter to attend Catholic school as well, she couldn’t afford it. Then, when the pandemic hit, virtual learning through the local public elementary school became impossible. “I am a single parent, I had to work and at my job I have to be in person (so) I couldn’t do virtual learning and work at the same time,” said Ganthier, a parishioner of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield. 

Without support in the area, she returned to Kenya to be closer to family. But then her parish provided a helping hand: a scholarship for her daughter to attend Catholic school. Ganthier and her daughter returned to Virginia, she went back to work and her daughter started in person at Angelus Academy in Springfield in October 2020. 

“The school is wonderful, and I like that she's around kids who have the same values as her. I was worried about her switching but she's come to love the school,” said Ganthier. “She's where she needs to be.”

For many years, parishioners at St. Raymond, which has no parochial school, were able to get scholarships to cover the difference between “in parish” and “out of parish” tuition rates at neighboring Catholic schools. But Father John C. De Celles, pastor, wanted to do more. He is offering parishioners $2,000 to move their child out of public school to a Catholic school of their choice. The following year and beyond, parents can receive $1,000 per child to remain at a Catholic school. Home-schooling parents are offered money for educational costs. Any family can ask for more assistance if needed. 

The tuition money largely comes from the Our Lady of Ransom Fund. The name recalls when the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Raymond in 1218 and asked him and others to found a religious order — the Mercedarians — that would organize the ransom of Christians who had been kidnapped by Moorish raiders. Father De Celles sees the fund as a way to ransom his school-age parishioners from the prevailing secular culture at public schools. 

“I think right now the schooling of our children is the issue. We’ll lose them to the culture of death if we don’t provide an environment where they can learn to love Christ in the educational setting,” he said. He noted that Northern Virginia is very expensive and it’s hard for people to afford their mortgage and school tuition, especially if they’ve been blessed with many children. “We’re the church and we have to do something here. These are our kids,” he said.

So far in 2021, the parish has raised $140,464 for the Our Lady of Ransom Fund. During the 2021-22 school year, the parish has given $147,260 to subsidize the tuition of 113 students. Many children attend the nearby independent Catholic school, Angelus, where Father De Celles is chaplain. Others attend St. Bernadette School in Springfield, Nativity School in Burke, Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria and Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores, among other schools. The Arlington diocese also has Catholic school tuition assistance programs.

Though Father De Celles knows home schooling or sending children to Catholic school is no guarantee that they will practice the faith as adults, he believes it's the best option for passing on the faith. “A lot of parents who send their kids to public schools are very careful and talk to their kids a lot and they send them to CCD. Some of the kids become warriors, real witnesses to Christ in the schools,” he said. “But that’s really hard to do. It takes a real dedication, a real concerted effort and not all parents are able to do that and not all kids are able to do that, too, because the peer pressure is so great.”

A poster in the narthex of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield tracks the progress of the Our Lady of Ransom Scholarship Fund. COURTESY

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 Parishioners Nick and Karen Popp planned to enroll their children in public school until they learned about the tuition assistance program. "We've always wanted to send our four kids to Catholic school but it was never something that we could afford comfortably because I was a stay-at-home mom," said Karen. Last year, they enrolled their children at Angelus and Karen started working there, too. "We went from basically never thinking that we could afford to put our kids in Catholic school to doing whatever it takes to make it work."

Since then, they’ve watched their children fall more in love with the faith. "Our kids went from complaining about having to go to CCD to being excited to learn about their faith every day. I see my 6-year-old's little lips moving as he sits in his bed at night and I know he is praying," said Karen. "Our kids have always been good kids and we are grateful to see them developing a stronger prayer life since coming to Angelus Academy."

Nick said that he and Karen tried to teach them about the faith while they were in public schools and attending CCD. "We were not doing nearly as effective a job as Catholic school is currently doing. That's why we are so happy about it," he said.

The couple is grateful St. Raymond made a Catholic education possible for their children. “God has done wonderful things through Father De Celles,” said Nick. “When Catholic parishes are able to show generosity to families to allow their kids to get a Catholic education, it really is invaluable to many parents.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

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