By Joyce Colonel, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX — Amanda Kolden is well acquainted with the heartbreaking stories of families who are suddenly unable to afford their children’s tuition at St. Jerome Catholic School.
“I had parents who came to me in need. Not in tears, but close to tears. They say, “I don’t think I can do that anymore. It’s a burden for us and I don’t know what to do. Please help me,’” Kolden said.
“They’re dying to make sure their kids stay in a Catholic school because for a lot of them, that’s all they ever knew.”
Donations raised during Night of Hope, the annual fall event providing emergency assistance to students in Catholic schools, have helped thousands of families keep their children in Catholic schools despite trying circumstances.
As the administrative assistant to Rodney Wilhelm, the principal of St. Jerome Catholic School, Kolden knows many such struggling families.
“Last year one parent was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I believe she is having her fifth or sixth surgery to help. She had two daughters here last year,” said Kolden. “I know it was a huge relief for her not to have to choose between paying tuition and medical bills.”
From a father in one family struggling with a brain tumor to another family with a student battling cancer, the harsh reality of health and employment crises can make parents fear they won’t be able to to continue their children’s Catholic education.
“Night of Hope is an excellent unexpected help, and it really falls when it’s supposed to. It’s a sign from God that they’re supposed to be where they’re supposed to be, because that comes into play for them,” Kolden said.
Michelle Hernandez, director of finance at St. Mary’s High School, would agree.
Parents who lost their jobs, were laid off or were hit hard by Covid were among the families at St. Mary’s High School who turned to Night of Hope for emergency tuition assistance. On average, between three and five families of the school are helped each year through funding from Night of Hope, also known as Catholic School Support 365.
Despite all the challenges, parents have a deep desire for their children to continue their Catholic education. Tanya Bartlett, principal of St. Mary’s High School, said this is because the education a child receives in a Catholic school is not just for today.
“It affects a student’s entire life, the community, the family and the church,” Bartlett said. “Everywhere you go, you carry the experience of your Catholic upbringing with you, and it will influence everything you do.
“And that’s what parents want: for the students to know God, to know their faith, and to live it in their families.”
A St. Gregory family can relate to it. The mother herself graduated from school and very much wished that her daughters would follow suit. She didn’t need financial support to pay her tuition — until she was diagnosed with cancer.
“The mother’s illness was so severe that she had to quit her job and feared that the children would have to change schools. It was unimaginable to remove students from a school they loved during a family crisis,” said Margaret Welfelt, assistant principal at St. Gregory’s Catholic School.
“The Night of Hope Scholarship has provided much needed help to this family at such a critical time. Funding from this program has also made some of this unbearable situation a little less stressful.”
Tragically, the mother did not survive her battle with cancer, Welfelt said, but the family “remains grateful for the love and support they have received during such a difficult time. Students stay with teachers and friends who will continue to support them throughout their Catholic education and beyond.”
And while many families are applying for empowerment scholarship accounts or tuition tax credits to secure funding for Catholic tuition, that doesn’t mean disaster won’t happen. Losing a job, a devastating medical diagnosis, and other sudden changes in a family’s circumstances can leave Catholic elementary and high schools unable to pay tuition and other expenses.
That’s why the organizers of this year’s Night of Hope are counting on the generosity of donors. As in the last two years, Night of Hope will be a virtual event again this year and will take place on Thursday, November 3 at 6 p.m. The event is free, but registration is required.
Register for the Night of Hope