Eligio and Mercedes Solis are thankful their children have an opportunity to attend Catholic school with assistance from the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, which marked its 50th anniversary with a Mass offered by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral May 25.
“We are very fortunate because we are very lucky to have them go to Catholic school,” Eligio told CNY. “Without the scholarship, I don’t think they’d be in Catholic school.”
The Solis children attend Christ the King School in the Bronx where Salette, 12, is a seventh-grader and Eli, 11, is a fifth-grader. Salette and Eli were altar servers at the Mass.
“I love Catholic school,” Salette said. “I love being Catholic. The Catholic religion taught me to be a better person, to always be kinder to other people, and to love each other as you love yourselves.”
The Inner-City Scholarship Fund (ICSF), founded in 1971 by Terence Cardinal Cooke and a group of prominent executives of different religious backgrounds, annually awards $12 million to more than 11,000 Catholic school children in 56 Catholic schools located in lower Westchester County, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.
Average family income for scholarship recipients is about $24,000 and approximately 71 percent of scholarship recipients live near or below the federal poverty level.
In the archdiocese, 99 percent of Catholic high school seniors graduate and 99 percent of the graduates are accepted into colleges.
“It’s working. We’re giving that kid hope and we’ve been doing it for 50 years. The organization is still thriving 50 years later,” said Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund since 2004.
Ms. George attended the Mass as did Inner-City Scholarship Fund Board of Trustees President Peter T. Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg, L.P.; Michael Deegan, superintendent of archdiocesan schools; and contributors and benefactors to the scholarship fund efforts.
Cardinal Dolan, in his homily, thanked everyone for their work and financial support as he reflected on the day’s reading from Sirach and Gospel from Mark, and said how fitting they were for this Mass.
“The first reading, extolling the gift of generosity that when we return to God what He’s given us, it is extraordinarily pleasing to the Lord,” he said. “So take those consoling words from God’s holy word in the Bible this evening as an affirmation for your tremendous loyalty and generosity to this cause of our inner-city Catholic school scholarship fund.
“And, in our Gospel, Jesus is again talking about the value of sacrifice. When we sacrifice, when we give of ourselves, how pleasing that is to God and so many of your offerings have been at the point of sacrifice and difficulty and hardship. I've seen you dig deep. I've seen you come through time and time again even after a significant donation. When Susan (George) sounds the alarm bell, you come through again to the point of sacrifice.”
Cardinal Dolan closed his homily with a conversation he and Pope Francis had in the car after the pontiff’s 2015 visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem. The pope asked Cardinal Dolan to explain who the benefactors were that he met at the school and what they did.
Pope Francis was surprised the government did not pay and was amazed how these kids were able to attend Catholic schools.
“I said we have to raise the money so that these kids can get this extraordinarily effective education of mind, soul, heart and body, and he was amazed, as I am to be honest with you and as the community in the world is amazed, that your consistent generosity has made this noble experiment possible for half a century,” Cardinal Dolan said.
“Thank God. Thank you.”
Isabella Lopez is an eighth-grader at Christ the King, who will attend Preston High School in the Bronx in the fall. Isabella, who recited the petitions at the Mass, receives scholarship funding along with her sister, Adrienne Lopez, a sixth-grader at Christ the King.
Isabella and Adrienne were in the cathedral for the first time.
“It’s a very impressive cathedral,” Isabella said.
Their mother, Taisha Rodriguez, was also visiting the cathedral for the first time and was thankful her daughters are attending Catholic school.
“We came into Catholic schools later on in their education, and it’s changed their outlooks, their responsibility and their attitudes on school and learning,” she said. “They enjoy going to Catholic school. They love their friends. They love their teachers. They are having a really good time and a really great experience.”