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A lesson
“We can’t let our schools become elitist….They can’t
just be schools for those who can afford them,” Pope
Francis reportedly told Catholic educators gathered at
the Vatican last November. It’s a statement to which
many Catholic parents would respond with a resounding “amen.”
The cost of Catholic school tuition is a common
lament among parents — especially those who are
solidly middle class — who sacrifice to send their kids
to Catholic school and among those who feel it’s financially not an option. According to the National Catholic
Educational Association, the average annual tuition is
$3,678 for elementary school and $9,622 for secondary
(junior high and/or high school). For families enrolling
multiple children, that can quickly add up to a significant slice of the salary.
The Diocese of Wichita, Kan., has taken a decidedly different approach. The 11,000 students in
its 38 Catholic schools don’t pay tuition. Instead,
schools run on Catholic stewardship. According to
the diocese’s website, “Parishes [are]
committed to funding a Catholic
education for every Catholic
parish family regard-


less of family income.” This responsibility is shared by
all the Catholics in the diocese, regardless of whether
their parish sponsors a school or whether they have
school-aged children.
Making stewardship a way of life and not just an
option for Wichita’s 100,000 Catholics and 90 parishes began in 1985. From the beginning, however, the
stewardship model aimed to support all of a parish’s
ministries, not only Catholic schools. The model was
inspired by a single parish priest in western Wichita,
who, in the late 1960s, told his parishioners that if they
all donated 5 percent of their income to their parish, they could cover all of its expenses, including its
elementary school. They obliged. Eight years later, he
asked parishioners to bump their contributions up to 8
percent to cover the parish high school’s expenses and
a new building.
According to the National Catholic Register, all
Wichita parishes have completely funded their schools
through stewardship since 2002. In parishes where
parishioners alone cannot support the schools, costs
are covered by the diocese’s St. Katharine Drexel
Catholic School Fund, which received about $1
million in gifts in 2015.
“For some people,
when you hear the
word ‘stewardship,’
dollar signs pop
into the head. It’s
certainly not the
first thing I think
of,” said Clare


Vanderpool in a 2016 video promoting the diocese’s
stewardship model. “When we talk about stewardship and a grateful response to gifts that we’re given,
for me, it is all about gratitude.”
Father Peter Stravinskas, a priest of the diocese
of Boise, Idaho, and executive director of the New
Jersey-based Catholic Education Foundation, thinks
the Wichita plan is the way to go for Catholic education today. However, while a handful of individual
parishes across the country have adopted its model,
Wichita is the only diocese to take it to the level it has.
For families outside of Wichita, the question of
tuition and stewardship is complicated somewhat
by taxes. In the 1950s, parishes and schools severed
organizational ties, meaning that a parish and its
school operate under separate budgets. Donations
to a parish are eligible for tax deductions, but tuition
payments to a school are not.
That organizational separation also created
a psychological separation between parish and
school, Father Stravinskas said, and in most cases,
funding the school became the job of the parents,
not the parish.
For many parents, paying Catholic school tuition
means a 10 percent tithe to the parish is financially
burdensome or simply out of the question. While
some pastors would say that parishioners are typically eligible for a reduced tuition rate because they’re
also expected to give to the parish, Father Stravinskas advises parents to make their child’s education
their primary responsibility. Time and talent are
also reasonable tithes to the parish, and school families are typically the most engaged families in the
parish, he said.
“I don’t think they [parents] need to feel guilty for
fulfilling their responsibility” of educating their children, Father Stravinskas said, adding that he thinks
the institutional church has placed an “undue burden”
on families through tuition costs.
The Catholic educators and pastors to whom he
regularly presents seem to agree, he said, but he sees
little movement to make Wichita’s model a nationwide reality. He advises parishes interested in adopting the Wichita model to convene a meeting of the
Parent Teacher Association, the pastor and the parish
finance council. Organizers should arm themselves
with Church teaching on education, including canon
law, Church documents and papal proclamations.
“If little Wichita can do it,” he asked, “why can’t
everybody else?”

Sheila’s blood pressure issues didn’t resolve postpartum. Ten months after David was born, they were expecting again. At 35 weeks, she went in for blood pressure
monitoring, and a nurse immediately sent her to the
hospital. Hours later, she started to hemorrhage from a
placental abruption. Joshua was born 15 minutes later
via emergency C-section. He had inhaled blood and spent
a week in NICU. Sheila underwent a blood transfusion.
Doctors told them that if Sheila hadn’t already been
at the hospital when it happened, it was likely she and
Joshua would have died. An ambulance ride would have
taken too long.
With Joshua’s harrowing birth, the Nalywajkos were
shook by a sense that their plan for their family might not
work out as they had imagined. The charge to be “interpreters” of God’s love, as Pope Paul VI put it in Gaudium
et Spes, suddenly felt like a complicated endeavor.

The Nalywajkos realized that Sheila’s
blood pressure issues were serious. Her
doctor told her that if she had more kids,
she’d have heart failure. She was 28.
Doctors told them that the placental abruption, although related to Sheila’s high blood pressure, was a risk
in future pregnancies but wouldn’t necessarily reoccur.
The couple still hoped for a girl, and within a year conceived again. To minimize risk to mom and child, they
placed Sheila’s care in the hands of experts at the University of Chicago. When she was 34 weeks along, doctors
said she had a choice: Either she could go on bed rest
at the hospital the remainder of the pregnancy or they
would deliver the baby the next day.
The Nalywajkos considered the burden Sheila’s
absence would place on the household and took a calculated risk: They chose option No. 2. Although the baby
would be premature, doctors expected him to be fine.
But he wasn’t.
Nathan’s lungs were underdeveloped, and he had
pulmonary hypertension, where his body’s circulatory
system had not transitioned from its gestational orientation to normal newborn patterns. He spent at least a week
on a ventilator during three weeks in the hospital, and
Sheila and Steve struggled with guilt over their decision
to birth him early.
They also realized that Sheila’s blood pressure issues
were serious. Her doctor told her that if she had more
kids, she’d have heart failure.
She was 28.