Anonymous donor invests $100K annually in St. Mary’s
Father Michael Renninger, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Richmond for the past 10 years, has seen his parish band together before. They’ve raised thousands of dollars for various social justice projects and ministries, helped build and support a school at their sister parish in Haiti, built and eliminated the debt for their new church, renovated their elementary school, and planned numerous events and outreach programs.
Now, with the help of an anonymous donor, they are going one step further in securing a Future Full of Hope for the students at St. Mary’s Catholic School, which provides education for students in Pre-K through eighth grade.
Recently, an individual approached Father Renninger and simply said they “wanted to do something for the school.”
That something was a pledge of $100,000 a year for 10 years, for a total of $1 million, dedicated to a new scholarship program.
“This donor believes that the educational environment of a school like St. Mary’s has the ability to change the lives of students,” said Father Renninger. “The donor also believes that Catholic education makes a difference in the lives of families and is a positive force which will help to shape the future of our country.”
Opportunity to know Jesus
St. Mary’s decided to call the scholarship program “Future Full of Hope” after a Bible passage in which God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah, proclaiming, “I know well the plans that I have for you… plans for your welfare, not for woe, so as to give you a future full of hope” (Jer 29:11).
The only requirements to qualify for the program are that the students are local Catholic children, new to the school and could not otherwise afford parochial education.
Depending upon a student’s financial need, each scholarship could cover up to 50% of the annual tuition, which is $8,210 for the 2019-2020 academic year. This means at least two dozen students could be helped through the program per year. The student could also apply for additional tuition assistance through the Diocese of Richmond.
Principal Brandon Hess has served in his post for a little less than a year and quickly realized the strength of the community.
“I have worked in many schools — public, private and parochial,” he said. “The St. Mary’s community is the tightest I have encountered.”
Hess said that among the elements that help to create the tight-knit community are the generosity of parents with time and money, the high academic and spiritual standards, and the school’s faith-guided curriculum. He believes the new scholarship program will open doors to families who never thought their children could attend Catholic school.
“So often when talking to prospective families, they say, ‘We’d love to have our children in a Catholic school, but…’ We can now eliminate the largest reason for not attending a Catholic school,” he said.
According to Father Rennigner, “the opportunity to know Jesus Christ and fall in love with him,” is a special aspect of the St. Mary’s School community.
“A Catholic school like St. Mary’s provides opportunities for a child to excel in their intellectual, physical, social, emotional and spiritual development,” Father Renninger said. “Ultimately, we want every student to develop their God-given gifts and talents so that they will become good citizens, dynamic thinkers and compassionate followers of Jesus Christ who have a desire to serve their neighbor.”
Parish invited to match funds
In an effort to help even more children, Father Renninger has challenged parishioners of St. Mary’s to match the donor’s gift, hoping to raise another $100,000 per year in scholarship funds. He believes the parish will achieve that goal.
“In my experience, when people hear about a significant gift to a community they care about, this often creates an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to invite lots of folks to pray about whether they, too, could share their resources in a similar way,” he said. “Jesus reminds us that it is not the size of any individual gift that is important – it is the willingness of each believer to give according to their means.”
Gregg Kamper, director of finance and development for St. Mary’s School and St. Mary’s Church, shared that an additional $30,000 has already been raised by the community.
“While it certainly was a wonderful surprise, in many ways, it is just so consistent with the generosity we have here at St. Mary’s,” he said. “This gift will help us expand the number of young people that our community can impact. St. Mary’s has a rich history of generosity and dedication to social justice concerns. This extends to the school community as well.”
The emphasis of service to the community seen in the gifts given to the school is also a central component to student learning.
St. Mary’s School’s 385 students take part in multiple outreach programs, with middle school students required to perform 25 hours of service. They tutor students at the nearby public school, visit assisted living facilities, “adopt” students of St. Mary’s twin parish in Haiti, volunteer at parish events, donate to a different charity each month and explore more ways to help local and global communities.
For Father Renninger, the new scholarship program is already living up to its name.
“The future leaders of our nation are currently sitting in classrooms all over the country,” Father Renninger said. “We have the opportunity now to shape the future of our nation and world by the educational opportunities we make available to children. In an age of cultural transition and rapid change, Catholic schools have the ability to instill the virtues of academic rigor and critical thinking. As we shape the minds of children, we also have the responsibility to shape their hearts and souls.”
Editor’s note: To donate to the Future Full of Hope program, visit www.saintmary.org, click “Donate” on the top center bar of the website, and then click “Full of Hope.” To apply for a scholarship through the program, contact Anne Leigh Bisese at [email protected] or call 804-740-1048.