Today marks the start of National Catholic Schools Week. I remember Catholic Schools Week being a big deal during my time in grammar school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

It was a time for open houses to invite parents, parishioners, and visitors into the school to get a sense for what the place was like. It was a time for celebrating Mass with the special intention of recognizing Catholic education as a distinct social good that stands apart from the larger culture. Essentially, it was a time to recognize that Catholic education, at its best, can be transformational for both its direct participants and the larger culture.

While Catholic education played a big role in my childhood institutionally, it was my grandparents John and Marion Shakely who played the most significant roles in my life after my mother. John taught social studies at Central Bucks High School for nearly 30 years, but he and my grandmother made the decision early to equip their children with a Catholic experience of education. That eventually trickled down to my experience, and so by the time I entered school I already felt like part of a larger community in time because of the shared Catholic experiences of my family. It continues to root our identity.

It’s a much different world today from when my grandparents sent my aunts, uncles, and mother off to learn. Then, tuition was practically free for many years because parishes were able to cover costs. Later, it was something like a few hundred dollars in the first years of Archbishop Wood High School. As institutional Catholicism has changed, access to a Catholic education has become more challenging, too. A year’s worth of tuition at Archbishop Wood after fees stands at more than $7,000 today.

The challenge of access to Catholic education is something my grandmother has sought to address in the years since my grandfather died in 2001. Yet a source of frustration for her has been the lack of institutional investment and distribution solutions for Catholic philanthropy. We were thrilled to learn about the founding of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, which enables anyone to create permanently endowed funds to institutionalize things like scholarship support, program funding, and grants. Recently I created the John & Marion Shakely Charitable Fund to perpetuate my grandparents’ tradition of support for access to Catholic education. The fund will support scholarships for Archbishop Wood students.

We’re starting small, with an initial gift of $5,000. I’m hoping this Catholic Schools Week to raise an additional $1,000 that will be matched dollar for dollar. As the fund grows, scholarship support for students grows. It’s my hope to eventually build this fund to the point where it can provide substantial support for the Catholic Foundation’s competitive grants process, perpetuating a tradition of charity while enhancing opportunities for young people.

Gifts are 100% tax-deductible and the process is simple. Visit the Catholic Foundation’s Donate page to contribute. Be sure to select “John & Marion Shakely Charitable Fund” as the designation when processing your contribution. Also, consider subscribing to my newsletter for the fund. I share a few updates each year on the state and impact of the fund, so you can see the impact of your support.