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Catholic Schools Get First Crack at Selling Vatican Reproductions

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The 182 students at All Saints School in Etna, Pa., know well that fund-raisers are a way of life at Roman Catholic schools.

The suburban Pittsburgh students have sold everything from wrapping paper to candy to help meet expenses. Each Christmas season they roll out a model-train layout and sell tickets to the show.

But with the backing of one of the country's wealthiest men and the blessing of the pope himself, their latest campaign is a history-making event.

This month, All Saints' students were among the first people in the world to sell officially licensed items reproducing artwork from the Vatican museums in Rome. Several schools in the Pittsburgh Diocese have geared up for similar two- or three-week fund-raising campaigns.

Pittsburgh businessman John E. Connelly struck a deal with Vatican officials that gives him exclusive worldwide rights to sell reproduced images from the Vatican's 13 museums and the Sistine Chapel.

Mr. Connelly, a longtime supporter of Catholic education, made the items available first through the schools of the Pittsburgh Diocese, which serve about 36,000 students. Each school will retain 40 percent of the proceeds, 5 percent will go to the Vatican, and the other 55 percent will go to Mr. Connelly. He hasn't said how much profit he expects to make but has said much of the money will go back into product development and marketing.

"There's never, ever in the history of the church been a way to get those things out, unless you go to Rome," said the Rev. Kris Stubna, the secretary of education for the diocese.

Although All Saints isn't encouraging its students to go door to door, officials have asked each student to make at least six sales from the 14-page "Treasures of the Vatican Collection" catalog. From plates to note pads, the items are replete with images of angels and other scenes from the famous frescoes in the Vatican collection.

A money clip engraved with an image of St. Peter's Square is $15, and $20 will buy a "Carry the Cross" pen, decorated with a Vatican cross reproduction.

"There has been some question as to if it's prudent to be marketing the Vatican, but the response is you don't want to limit those things to those who can afford to go to Rome," Father Stubna said.

The diocese hopes that interest generated by the items will help raise enough money so that its parishes don't have to increase tuition. Fund raising accounts for about 6 percent of the $68 million needed to run the diocese's 130 schools. Officials hope to raise that to 10 percent by selling the Vatican items. Tuition at All Saints is $1,350 a year.

Marketing Expertise

The man behind the venture has a lifetime of marketing experience. Ranked among the 400 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, the 70-year-old Mr. Connelly launched a riverboat-excursion business in Pittsburgh in 1958.

In recent years, he's ventured into the gambling industry; his company President Casinos Inc. owns casino boats in Iowa, Missouri, and Mississippi.

He turned his marketing skills to school fund raising several years ago when he founded "Apples for The Students," a nationwide program that's put thousands of computers in classrooms.

The for-profit venture buys machines from Apple Computer Inc. at bulk rates and sells them to supermarket chains at a discount. Schools can then exchange grocery receipts collected by parents and friends for the computers.

Mr. Connelly, who also is helping raise money to build a residence in the Vatican for the College of Cardinals, said his past enterprises helping education helped clinch the school deal. "They know my involvement with the schools," he said last week, referring to Vatican officials.

Helping Pittsburgh's Catholic schools raise funds is just the beginning for Treasures Inc., the division of J. Edward Connelly Associates that is marketing the Vatican reproductions. Mr. Connelly hopes to expand the fund-raising efforts nationwide.

He has estimated that the venture could evolve into a $1 billion-a-year business, giving a much-needed dose of financial support to parochial schools along the way.

"This is the biggest thing to ever hit Catholic schools," he said.

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