St. Mary’s Education Fund receives a FACE-lift

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By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — At last week’s annual summertime event that helps raise money for the St. Mary’s Education Fund, a fund that provides money for scholarships for students who attend Catholic schools in the Fall River Diocese, James A. Campbell, director of Development for the diocese, revealed that the fund had changed its name to the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education, and that not only would FACE continue to help raise money for students, schools would also become the beneficiaries of any money raised.

“The St. Mary’s Education Fund has been around for 20 years, and it grew out of the closing of the St. Mary’s Orphanage in New Bedford,” explained Campbell of the history of the fund. “The assets of that orphanage were then transferred over to create the scholarship fund. Since it was the St. Mary’s Home, it became the St. Mary’s Fund.”

Though always a successful endeavor, having the name “St. Mary’s” in the title sometimes confused those willing to contribute. Campbell said he was encouraged by his predecessor, Michael Donly, that maybe a new name would help clarify things.

“He had mentioned to me, and others had mentioned to me, that there was a certain degree of confusion in the overall community about what St. Mary’s stood for, in that people would often associate St. Mary’s with a particular either parish or school,” said Campbell. “There was a desire to come up with a name that was more universal and descriptive of the intent and mission.”

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., suggested creating a catchy acronym, “and we went through a ton,” said Campbell before they landed on FACE — the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

“With the bishop, the proof is in the pudding,” said Campbell, “a name change is nice, but what are you going to do with it? How are we going to reenergize the people who support it?”

Earlier this year, the bishop initiated a task force made up of priests, laity, education experts and outside consultants to weigh in on the future of Catholic education in the diocese, “and we felt that it dovetailed very nicely” with the new mission of the scholarship fund, said Campbell, “This task force would be meeting for 18 months to two years to really study and come up with the right way to move forward for our schools.”

The task force will continue to issue regular progress reports, and are still in the “data collection” phase, said Campbell. “It’s complex because the issues for the schools on the Cape are different than the issues for the schools in Taunton, or in other areas.”

Seeing an increase in distribution will create new strategies in raising a larger sum of money every year, not just through the two annual dinners but “in addition to that, we’re going to be more aggressive in reaching out to local companies and corporations and asking for grants that are not necessarily related to an event,” said Campbell. “There are a number of foundations around the country that are interested in helping innovative Catholic schools implement their plans.”

He added, “We’re very grateful for the leadership of the Carney Foundation in spearheading this initiative to revitalize the schools. They have been an invaluable resource already in pointing out innovative ways to collect data and approach issues of enrollment, recruitment, as well as scholarships.”

The task force was a timely addition to the new restructuring of the scholarship fund, and the task force will be able to create a process for schools to apply for their own funds, “whether it be physical improvements to their building, technological or infrastructure improvements, or professional development for their teachers,” said Campbell. “Those are all things that the task force is looking at, and hopefully the task force will come up with a price tag.”

The task force will continue to figure out how to dispense money to schools and determine a vetting process: “It’s still to come. We have to set goals. We’re raising about $700,000 a year and I think that it’s not near enough,” he said.

The need has grown through the years, said Campbell, and even as each year sees more money raised, each year sees more families apply for aid, and without that money, “the students literally could not go” to school, he added. Heading into the school year of 2015-2016, 750 students received scholarship aid, with some siblings-students receiving aid, a boon for families who would not have to choose who among their children would be the one to receive a Catholic education. 

Even as Campbell and his team work to spread the word, Bishop da Cunha has embraced the philosophy that the youth of the diocese are the future of the Church, and that parishioners must work to preserve that future.

“It’s the bishop’s imperative that the Catholic schools belong to every parishioner in the diocese,” said Campbell. “Whether your particular parish supports a school or not, we collectively have an obligation to support Catholic education. The bishop has five points in that Catholic education pays high dividends: it can help break the cycle of poverty; it can prepare better citizens for our country; it can prepare better Catholics for our Church; to build a better world for the future; and that contributing to this foundation helps not only the children and their families, but the lifeblood of Catholic culture. Without children educated in the faith, we don’t have much of a future.”

Parents of those receiving aid continually express their gratitude to Campbell, and he said he is humbled by the appreciation: “It’s extremely rewarding in the sense that many fathers and mothers will reach out and say thank you to me,” he said, “and as much as I’d like, it’s not money from my pocket. It’s really accepting thanks on behalf of the donors who have made giving to Catholic schools a priority.”

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts