David Brands, chairman of the new Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon, speaks during a Jan. 20 meeting. He called Catholic education a proven path to break the cycle of poverty. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
David Brands, chairman of the new Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon, speaks during a Jan. 20 meeting. He called Catholic education a proven path to break the cycle of poverty. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

The Archdiocese of Portland’s Catholic Schools Department has released a major plan that aims to sustain schools and extend a Catholic education to more families. Part of the strategy is a reinvigorated fund for tuition aid.

The retooled Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon will seek gifts from individuals, estates, organizations and businesses who believe more children should have access to the values and success Catholic schools offer.

A separate not-for-profit housed at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Center, the foundation now has more than $7 million but leaders say it must grow significantly to meet the need.   

“It’s all for the kids,” said Peter Corrado, a former Central Catholic development chief who directs the foundation. “You think not just of your parish but the whole system.” 

Archbishop Alexander Sample has told the foundation board he wants no family to be left out of Catholic schooling because of finances. It’s one of the archbishop’s top priorities.

Many Catholic families cite the cost of Catholic schools as a barrier to attendance. Some families have tuition bills of $20,000 per year or more. At the same time, schools don’t want to lower tuition, since that could cut into teacher pay and erode quality. The solution, officials say, is more assistance.

“Catholic education is not a privilege. It is a right for Catholics,” said Corrado, a member of The Madeleine Parish. “We want any parent who wants to send a child to Catholic school to be able to. If people choose public school because Catholic school is unaffordable, that is unacceptable.”

Church leaders have long noted that many active Catholic families don’t send their children to Catholic schools. One reason is that aid is widely available to low-income families, but not always for those in the lower-middle and middle classes.

“We help those who can’t afford it but we don’t do much for those who can barely afford it,” says Corrado. “When tuition rises they are on the bubble.”

The foundation will augment the aid that Catholic elementary and high schools offer families. 

“Religion and education — people understand the value of both,” Corrado said.

Corrado looks to his own parents as mentors in generosity. Al and Sue Corrado not only sent their seven children to Catholic schools, but have been major sustainers of Catholic education, from grade school through college. “They believe it’s a game changer,” Corrado said. 

Another role model is philanthropist Joe Weston, who gives large matching grants used for scholarships. Weston has argued that an expansion is needed in the base of donors and that all schools should increase their endowments — funds in which only a percentage of the interest and dividends are distributed. One of Corrado’s jobs is to help schools find more and more donors to match Weston’s generosity.

A model Corrado likes is the Fulcrum Foundation, which supports Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Family foundations, businesses and even local Catholic colleges contribute. In addition to providing tuition aid, donors in Seattle endow chairs in Catholic schools, supporting a science teacher, for example. The foundation holds an annual gala. In February, the gathering raised $1.5 million. 

David Brands, chairman of the Oregon foundation board, says there is no better investment in the future than providing children a high quality, faith-based education. Brands attended Catholic grade and high schools, and his mother was a Catholic elementary school teacher. 

“I have seen personally how young people literally have had their lives transformed through Catholic education,” said Brands. “It pains me that so many families cannot afford the cost.” Brands calls Catholic schools an investment in one of the only proven ways to break the cycle of poverty.

Ann Humberston, a foundation board member with grandchildren in Catholic schools, said students take their faith and values into the world.

“Our students begin volunteering in grade school through high school and they love doing it,” Humbertson said. “I am blown away at what they accomplish and how happy they are  — it makes you want that for all children.”

A desire to cultivate faith motivates most givers. 

“The happiest people I know are those who have a great love of God,” said Carol Herman, vice chairwoman of the board. She wants others to have that spiritual opportunity and sees Catholic schools as the best vehicle. “It is such an important thing we are working on.”

Herman, a member of Cathedral Parish, said the short-term goal is increased access to Catholic schools. The long-range goal is “guiding our children onto the path of eternal salvation.”

“If we educate our children,” Herman said, “it is going to make our church so much stronger.”