Catholic Sentinel photo by Jon DeBellisEvan, Dede and Molly Morris.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Jon DeBellis
Evan, Dede and Molly Morris.
For Dede Morris, a member of St. Pius Parish in Northwest Portland, life has presented more than its share of challenges the past few years.

Six years ago, her husband Bob lost his job. Then, a persistent cough that had been bothering him turned out to be pulmonary fibrosis. He died six months later. Dede lost her job soon after that.

Her son, Evan, and daughter, Molly, had just lost their father, and now, there was a possibility they’d lose their home.

“I don’t think it ever really tested my faith,” said Dede. “There were a lot of things going on and a lot of ‘how much more can we take?’ being asked,” she said.

She began seeing a counselor, who happened to be Catholic. The counselor advised, “You have every right to feel that you’re alone, but you’re not. God’s going to help you figure it all out.”

Dede’s own faith, and the help of her parish and Catholic schools helped her through.

Catholic families across western Oregon are struggling. Job losses, deaths, financial problems, marital problems are all challenges to family life. Whether the challenges come in the form of Catholic school tuition payments, contributions to the parish, a decline in emotional and spiritual health — faith and community can work to keep families together.

For Dede, it was important to her that her children maintain continuity at St. Pius school, but affording Catholic education was becoming an impossibility.

Mary Thompson, St. Pius principal, approached the family and offered to let Dede pay what her family could. The school gave the family tuition assistance to make up for the rest.

Dede, who had served on the parish’s finance committee before, knew about tuition assistance, but never thought her family would need the help.

“Mary just made it happen and never made me feel like I should be embarrassed,” said Dede. “She just accepted what we could pay and was willing to work with us.”

Dede says even though she had family in town, the St. Pius community was crucial to her family’s healing.

“People took the kids for play dates, provided meals when Bob passed away,” she said. “It was wonderful knowing that people were there.”

Archdiocesan Catholic schools help families with tuition assistance every year.

The Salem Catholic Schools Foundation’s Emergency Tuition Assistance Fund is observing 20 years of making funds available for families who face trying circumstances.

The foundation also has regular tuition assistance for families in need. In the past year, it has provided more than $100,000 in regular tuition assistance and scholarships for our four Salem-area Catholic schools.

This year, the foundation added Sacred Heart School in Gervais to the group of schools eligible to request emergency tuition assistance.

“There was a time when church subsidies were so great that parents had to pay very little for their children to attend Catholic schools. Those days are long gone.,” said Kevin Mannix, president, Salem Catholic Schools. “But, lay Catholics have stepped in to make a tremendous difference.”

Paul Hogan, principal at Jesuit High School in Portland, says at least 25 percent of families receive tuition assistance at Jesuit.

“Our admissions process is need-blind,” says Hogan. “In deciding which students to accept, we don’t look at a family’s ability to pay. We look at their faith life, whether they are Catholic, or have a strong religious tradition of another type, as well their academics. Part of our social justice mission here at Jesuit is to serve the church; to serve society — to make sure that families can afford a good Catholic education.”

To accomplish this task, Jesuit High has an enthusiastic development staff that helps raise money throughout the year for tuition assistance programs.  

At De La Salle North Catholic High School, the Cristo Rey initiative allows staff to focus on students in financial need. Close to seventy-five percent of the De La Salle student body population qualifies for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Some families pay only $10 per month.

De La Salle students work at more than 80 companies around the Portland area throughout the school year. The work students do generates almost $2 million to help fund the school and pay for their educations. Some students even land Christmas break, spring break or summer time jobs with the companies they work for; money earned during this vacation time is theirs to keep and helps their families.

In addition, De La Salle has funds available to help families purchase uniforms and lunches. The school has even given food to some families to get them through the weekend.

Robert Mizia, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Portland, recently attended a board meeting at Marist High School in Eugene and says the budget line for tuition and financial assistance has increased again at the school this year.

“It’s something that the schools take very seriously,” said Mizia. “Tuitions are increasing, and a number of families may be precluded from being able to attend, but schools are very conscientious in raising money for tuition assistance.”

The Archdiocese of Portland’s Annual Catholic Appeal also raises money for tuition assistance for diocesan schools.

“Every school will go to bat to work with a family,” said Mizia. He adds that high schools with development staff have an easier time raising money to assist with catastrophic financial situations, compared to Catholic elementary schools tied to parishes, particularly parishes in rural areas that have a lower collection plate average.

“Part of the concern I have is at what point do you hit the ceiling and avoid creating a situation where only wealthy people can afford a Catholic school tuition?” Mizia asks.

For Dede, her Catholic community came through. Her kids — one soon-to-be sophomore at Valley Catholic and one soon-to-be seventh grader at St. Pius — went through a really rough time, but are “in a good place now.”

A former vice president in commercial banking, Dede got a new job at Valley Catholic as the elementary and middle school secretary. The job has allowed her to keep the same work shifts as her children’s school schedule — a must for single moms, she says.

“People I didn’t even know at St. Pius came forward to help in whatever way they could,” said Dede. “I’m sure I never thanked all those people, but I can see its effect on my children.”

Dede’s son, Evan, just the other day said to her when she contemplated backing out of a previous commitment, “No, mom, we need to do this for these people, because people have done so much for us.”

“That’s what I’m most thankful for,” she said.