Celebrating Catholic schools at the State House


PROVIDENCE — The State House opened its doors for diocesan students, faculty, and parents from across the state to celebrate the importance of Catholic education not only for the church, but also for Rhode Island.

Speaking on behalf of parents who feel that the sacrifice to send their children to Catholic schools has paid off, Sheila Gray shared how thankful she was for the tuition tax credit. Thanks to the scholarship, Gray said, more parents, especially those who struggle financially can provide such an education for their children.

The Rhode Island tuition tax credit law allows corporations to receive a tax credit for making contributions that provide financially struggling families with scholarships for their children to attend the school of their choice.

“We as parents deserve a choice when it comes to our children’s education,” said Gray whose children, Kyle and Shannon, attend La Salle Academy. “Unfortunately, for some Rhode Islanders, financial realities prohibit good, hard working families from providing that education of choice.”

When Kyle and Shannon’s father passed away in 2003, one of his last requests was that they attend La Salle.

“Their father graduated from La Salle in 1984.” she said. “When he graduated, the tuition was about $500. With the tuition now approximately $12,000 per child, that would not have been possible without the tuition tax credit.”

Not only does this tax credit provide parents with a choice, she said, but it also eases the burdens on public school teachers and students.

“For every child that attends a private school, more resources are made available for public school teachers and students,” Gray said. “We private school parents pay twice for education: first through property taxes and again for tuition. But it is a sacrifice many of us are willing to make to provide the very best education for our children.”

Father Bernard A. Healey, governmental liaison for the Diocese of Providence, said that Catholic Schools Day at the State House is a great opportunity to highlight the success of Rhode Island Catholic schools and to show the state’s political leaders the “real face of Catholic education.”

“The Scholarship Tuition Tax Credit was a great victory for school choice for the economically disadvantaged in Rhode Island,” said Father Healey. “I hope that the new leadership of the RI House of Representatives will continue this same support this year and the years to come.”

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin expressed his gratitude to Governor Donald Carcieri for his continued support of Catholic schools.

“Catholic schools have an irreplaceable role,” the bishop said to a full room of legislators, teachers, students and parents. “It is not just a contribution to the church, but to the whole state as well. We are especially grateful for the Tuition Tax Credit. We hope and pray that we can count on their continued support. Catholic schools are a wonderful gift from God.”

Many school representatives, such as Patricia Riendeau, development director of Woodlawn Catholic School in Pawtucket, came to Capitol Hill to show their support for Catholic education.

“Catholic schools are so important in today’s society,” she said. “It’s the extras, the moral development, that is all very important.”

An example of the academic achievement of Catholic school students was showcased by the presence of many schools including Saint Philomena School, Portsmouth, which was the only school in the state to be named a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

“It’s fun to be here and it’s a great experience,” said eighth grader, Jessica Pitocco. “It’s good to represent our school.”

“It’s nice to come and see all the other schools,” seventh-grader Alison Williams added.

“We are really proud of our Blue Ribbon.”

Another Catholic school represented at the State House was St. Patrick Academy, Providence. Next fall, St. Patrick Academy will admit its first freshman class, after receiving approval from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin to convert from a middle school to a high school. St. Patrick eighth-grader, Kathleen Brissette shared how happy she was to be a part of Catholic Schools Day.

“I think Catholic schools are good,” she said. “It teaches you about God and yourself and it helps prepare you for the rest of your life.”

House Majority Leader Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors also both spoke in favor of the significance of Catholic schools, both expressing their gratitude for the dedication of parents and that students educated in Catholic schools benefits the entire community.

Gray added that Catholic school formation gave both of her children a strong academic background that has allowed them to achieve at La Salle Academy.

“Beyond academics, my children have been given a strong spiritual and moral foundation to build upon as adults,” she said. “I am comfortable that they will go out into the world not only academically ready to become contributing members of society, but also compassionate, faith filled members of the global Catholic community.”

UNIQUE EDUCATION: St. Patrick Academy eighth-grader Kathleen Brissette, above, represented her school at Catholic Schools’ Day at the State House. House Majority Leader Nicholas A. Mattiello, left, thanks the parents of Catholic school students for their dedication to their children’s education. To view more photos from the event at the State House, visit: www.thericatholic.com, Keyword: Catholic Schools Day

Photos: Laura Kilgus