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10 Catholic Schools Share $2 Million Grant in Chicago

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A private foundation set up to support Roman Catholic schools in inner-city Chicago has donated nearly $2 million this year to 10 elementary schools that have demonstrated strong management.

The Big Shoulders Fund, established three years ago in affiliation with the Archdiocese of Chicago, collects corporate, foundation, and private support for 135 Catholic elementary schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods. The archdiocesan school system has a total of some 400 schools in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

The fund distributed sums to the 10 schools ranging from $9,000 to $180,000 to cover operating subsidies that have been paid annually by the archdiocese. Seven of the schools received grants of $100,000 or more.

Chicago's archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, announced the awards this month.

The foundation selected the schools based on their strong enrollments and sound financial and personnel management, said Mary Hallan, a spokesman for the fund.

Last year, the foundation disbursed its funds among 66 inner-city schools, she said. But a decision was made to concentrate the grants this year on 10 strong schools.

"This way, the impact is greater," Ms. Hallan said. "It gives other schools a reason to improve their programs, something to4work for."

The foundation distributed a total of $4.5 million this year, with other grants including $1.5 million for an educational endowment for the inner-city schools, a $500,000 capital grant to a new consolidated elementary school, and smaller grants for high-school scholarships, teacher inservice training, and other programs.

Sister Ann O'Brien, principal of Jesus Our Brother Elementary School on the city's South Side, said last week she was still deciding what to do with the $167,000 grant the school received from the fund.

"Since we are a mostly black school, I would like to update our library with books on the black experience," she said. She is also considering buying new maps and drug-prevention films.

The school serves six parishes, enrolling 350 students in prekindergarten through 8th grade. About 92 percent of the students are black, and the rest Hispanic.

The idea of establishing foundations to raise money for Catholic school systems has taken root in a number of archdioceses, including New York and Philadelphia.

The blocs program--Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools--in Philadelphia was the first such program, established in 1980 to provide financial stability to the archdiocese's schools. That fund has raised more than $39 million since its inception.--mw

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