A “tough battle for Catholic schools on the east side” is how Principal Laurie Jennrich characterized the situation at St. Pascal Baylon Catholic School the past few years. While the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school in St. Paul has a long tradition of providing excellent Catholic education to its students and families, “excellence comes with a cost,” says the new chairman of the school board, Steve Karel.
“The changing demographics of their neighborhood,” he explained, “has placed unsustainable financial pressure on their dedicated parish.”
St. Pascal’s position as the last hold-out on the east side of St. Paul is a testament to the commitment of the parish and the strength of the school.
When Father Michael Byron became pastor of St. Pascal Baylon in July 2012, the school was facing significant resource challenges. Father Byron approached the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and began discussions with Bishop Andrew Cozzens. Recognizing the importance of having a Catholic school on the east side, they reached out to like-minded philanthropic partners and were responded to generously by the GHR Foundation, the Catholic Community Foundation and the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.
With the grants, St. Pascal Baylon School was able to hire a development director, Mary Worley, to restructure a sustainable governance model and select a new school board with the expertise needed to stabilize and operate the school.
Karel said the new “talented, confident and committed” team has begun a strategic plan for self-sustaining development as well as to clearly define their mission and values so as to put themselves in a position to approach foundations and apply for grants. More generous support came from the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE), Minnesota Independent School Forum, AIM Higher Foundation, the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation and the parish’s men’s and women’s clubs.
With support from all these philanthropic partners, St. Pascal Baylon School has been working to increase enrollment by providing financial aid to economically-struggling families and transfer grants to students coming in from non-Catholic schools. They have also used funds to conduct a comprehensive analysis of technology needs, purchase laptops, obtain information technology support from Best Buy’s Geek Squad and build individual learning plans to better address the academic needs of each student.
Increasing enrollment and excellence allows St. Pascal’s to focus on its main goal — evangelization. “Our main mandate is about the Gospel, or else we’re out of business,” Father Byron said.
Jennrich echoed his sentiment.
“We want to bring Christ to [students],” she said. “[CSCOE and its supporters are] our guardian angels who have given us hope. And we’re here to stay because of their support.”