by Deacon Tom Picciano
SUN contributing writer

BINGHAMTON —- There’s a tough year ahead for many Catholic school students. The economic downturn is affecting spending on tuition, as many parents are seeking assistance to keep their children in the schools.

“With the loss of jobs we’ve had here in the Southern Tier it has such a long-range effect,” said Kathleen Dwyer, principal of Seton Catholic Central High School.

“I’m hearing from families that I’ve never heard from before for tuition assistance,” she said. “Some people say to me that ‘I just need this help for one year…I just need to get over this particular economy. When things improve it will get better.”

A five-year-old program will help some parents get over the economic hump this year with $50,000 more available for tuition assistance. It comes from the Catholic Education Foundation of the Southern Tier. The group grew out of a way to support a lacrosse team at SCCHS.

John Dowd’s son was one of six SCCHS players who’d been dropped by the public Binghamton High School lacrosse team. With the help of his law firm, and the Mirabito family, $20,000 was raised for a team at SCC. When more money was needed, the idea of a golf tournament was hatched. The Don Hengel Tournament has since raised a half-million dollars for catholic schools in Broome County.

“In the past, parents have made the brownies, sold the brownies, bought and then ate the brownies…with very little net profit,” Dowd said. “At the end of the fundraising day, we also wanted support to come from others that are not parents and that already carry a heavy burden of tuition for their children.”

“The current model for funding Catholic education is in jeopardy and new strategies need to be examined,” said Dowd, who serves as president of the Catholic Education Foundation of the Southern Tier.

Dowd is an alumnus of McQuade Jesuit High School in Rochester, which he said has raised “millions to support its mission utilizing big bang economics.” He added that the combined with a “robust community service program” the school’s population has remained constant for the last 35 years.

“My vision is a direct byproduct of the Jesuit mantra of ’Men For Others,’ which develops great PR and life lessons for the school and the students.”

Dowd has also drawn upon his other alma mater, Notre Dame University, to bring in celebrities for the Hengel Tournament. It memorializes Notre Dame alumnus Don Hengel, a World War II pilot whose son was superintendent of Traditions Resort, where the golf outing is held. Notre Dame encourages its alumni to support Catholic education.

Seton Catholic Central students are part of the Hengel Tournament as well, greeting the golfers at spots around the course. In addition to the half-million raised from the tournament, another $100,000 has come from non-golf activity.

“And because of the ripple effect of students that are attracted and/or retained by programs we support, I would say the economic impact is closer to one million,” Dowd said.

Tuition at the Broome County Catholic Schools is on a sliding scale based on number of students from a family attending the schools. It ranges from just over $3,200 for a kindergarten student with siblings to $5,700 for the first child attending the high school.

Throughout the diocese, a variety of money is available, including $500,000 in a tuition assistance program, $150,000 in Bishop’s Aid, and a number of regional funds, like the $50,000 Hengel money.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity in a difficult time to help out our students in the Southern Tier,” said Chris Mominey, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in Syracuse Diocese of the Hengel grant. “It goes a long way.”
“These are very challenging times,” said SCC principal Kathleen Dwyer. “The Hengel funds for this particular purpose are heaven sent.”

Parents of current or potential students of Broome County Catholic Schools are encouraged to contact the schools if they are in need of tuition money for the upcoming academic year.

The Catholic Education Foundation of the Southern Tier plans to continue the Hengel tournament to support and improve the schools. “We truly believe that God has a hand in what has been accomplished and that every hurdle thrown in our way is to be replaced by another blessing,” Dowd said. He likens their work to fertilizing seeds for growth.

“You have to invest in our future. You need to invest in Catholic education if the church wants strong members and high probability of vocations. Even non-Catholic residents need to hope that faith-based education survives to attract businesses that demand educational alternatives,” Dowd said. “Without new resources, without parents willing to give us their children to educate, then Catholic schools are clearly an endangered species.”

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