$1M campaign part of St. Benedict School centennial will provide funds for internal, external improvements


For 100 years, St. Benedict Catholic School, Richmond, has welcomed children of all backgrounds. An urban school, parents drive from suburban neighborhoods, country farms, trailer parks and city apartments for their children to be educated here. Half of the students receive some form of tuition assistance.

Forty percent are students of color. Eighty-six percent are Catholic. One hundred percent want a quality classical education – not just a place to learn how to read, write and multiply, but a place to learn how to think, pray and live.

In celebration of its centennial, St. Benedict kicked off fundraising for its Centennial Campaign on Back to School Night last fall. The campaign’s aim is to raise enough money through its Centennial Fund to drastically improve and renovate the school’s aging building and grounds.

The bulk of the money will go toward a new HVAC system, with additional funds allotted to updating the outdoor campus and maintaining community spaces. The fund has a goal of reaching $1 million and 100% participation from its school families, and it is on its way to succeed.

Support through #iGiveCatholic

The first Tuesday after Thanksgiving is widely known as Giving Tuesday, a day for people from coast to coast to give back to their communities. This past Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3, St. Benedict asked its community to donate to the Centennial Fund through an initiative called #iGiveCatholic, which encourages parishioners across the country to donate to their parishes, parochial schools and ministries. Nationally, more than $7 million was raised.

Gretchen Ridgely, the school’s director of admissions and development, said she was “absolutely humbled” by the support they received from school families.

“A whopping 98% contributed to the Centennial Fund during this time. In total, we raised nearly $27,000 from our families with an average donation of $144, which means a great deal in a community like ours,” she said, noting the school topped the #iGiveCatholic leaderboard in Virginia.

An anonymous alumnus matched dollar-for-dollar what the rest of the community raised by Dec. 3.

In addition to seeking grants, the diocese’s Catholic Community Foundation has been working with St. Benedict to reach out to alumni for help. St. Benedict has raised $99,000.

“While we clearly have a ways to go to reach our $1 million goal,” Ridgely said, “we are very thankful to get off to such a great start and have the amazing support of our families to share with our alumni and grant-making communities going forward. It shows what a dedicated and special community we have at St. Benedict’s.”

What school provides

Ridgely is passionate about this project, not just as an employee, but as a parent. She has two children who are St. Benedict students and explained why she chose this school for her career path and to educate her children.

“We drive, on average, about 30 minutes each way, passing many other schools along the way, to be here at St. Benedict. We clip coupons and give up vacations because we want our children to have this truly wholesome, faith-filled, Catholic education in this small school community,” she said. “Our kids don’t look the same or have the same life experiences, and that’s precisely what enriches our community and elevates our children’s minds to the beauty of God’s amazing creation. Our kids grow up learning alongside one another, playing with one another and praying for each other every day as one community of God’s beautiful children.”

Paul Cooper, chairman of the St. Benedict School Board, has two daughters, ages 9 and 7, who are in fourth and first grades respectively. Cooper and his family love the close-knit community they have found here, and he can see the effect the school has had on his own children.

“Cameron and Cassidy are very compassionate children, and they have gained a better understanding of why it is important to always put others’ interests and needs before theirs as Jesus taught us all,” he said.

The school board is as diverse as the student population. Members offer their unique perspectives and work together for the good of the school and students.

As school board chairman, Cooper acts as an advisor to the school principal, Sean Cruess. The board, along with Cruess, Ridgely, director of parish finance Elizabeth Hanson, and Donnie Ross, major gifts officer with the Catholic Community Foundation, collectively decided how best to use the Centennial Fund.

‘Students are legacy’

The HVAC system is estimated to cost $700,000 and was marked as a top priority. It will replace dated window units and wall mountings and will feature centralized control and local temperature control, meaning each classroom can set its own Will provide funds for internal, external improvements temperature. It is energy efficient, quiet, and will greatly increase the level of comfort within the school. Installation is slated for summer of 2020.

Outdoor improvements include moving the existing fence line to include more safe recreational space as well as create an outdoor classroom, resurfacing the large blacktop used for sports and physical education classes, redesigning the smaller playground and installing ground surface and equipment suitable for different stages of development, enhancing the school’s garden, and raising a new school sign in the front of the building.

Inside, worn carpets, shelves, tables and chairs will be replaced, and a permanent display will be erected in the front lobby in honor of the centennial. Money will also be directed to the school’s annual fund, which bridges the roughly 25% gap between tuition dollars received and actual operational costs.

Cruess is excited about the renovations but believes it’s not what’s inside the school that matters most, but who attends the school.

“The real legacy of our school is the students,” he said. “Our current alumni are making a difference in the community. We have alumni in religious life, business, non-profits, athletics and the arts. Recent graduates of St. Benedict have excelled in some of the most challenging high school programs in the area and gone on to prestigious universities. Most importantly, our graduates live out their faith through service and virtue long after they leave our school building.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about the Centennial Fund, visit http://www.saintbenedictschool.org/giving/.

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