Published Online: October 4, 2000
Published in Print: October 4, 2000, as Private Schools

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Answered Prayers: It was an unusually vivid demonstration of the oft- quoted biblical passage, "Ask, and ye shall receive."

The Rev. Kerry Ninemire, who oversees a Roman Catholic school in central Kansas, had been praying for a bit of money to help ease the school's financial growing pains.

Within days, the bishop of his local diocese called him to say that an alumnus had died and left Sacred Heart Junior-Senior High School a $2.6 million endowment.

"I had just been saying, 'If we only had a couple million dollars it would really help us,'" Father Ninemire said last month. "This was the answer to our prayers."

Local bank officials in Salina, an industrial town of 45,000 surrounded by farmland, had abided by the donor's wishes, keeping the trust a secret until after his death.

But after the businessman died, they met on Sept. 1 with the bishop of the Diocese of Salina to inform him of the gift.

The principal sum cannot be spent, but the school already has plans for its annual earnings, which will exceed $130,000 if the money earns 5 percent interest.

Janet Pahls, the school's director of business and development, said some of the money would be spent on improving salaries, benefits, and training for current teachers, and on hiring more teachers.

Enrollment at the 92-year-old school has been growing by 8 percent to 9 percent a year, with 243 students now in grades 7-12.

"This gift comes at a very good time for us," Ms. Pahls said.

The growth has brought some difficult choices to Sacred Heart, as it has to many other Catholic schools that face rising operating costs but try to avoid hiking tuition for fear of pricing out the parents they serve.

As a result, Father Ninemire said, the school has gone into debt. The gift will enable it to pay off that debt, he said, as well as strengthen its teaching staff.

The donation ranks as one of the largest single gifts ever to a Catholic high school, said Michael J. Guerra, the executive director of the secondary department of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Such gifts are much needed, since nationally, tuition covers only 80 percent of such schools' per-pupil costs, leaving the rest to be supplied by fund raising or other means.

Bishop George K. Fitzsimons, whose diocese includes the three parishes that jointly own the school, said the bequest would be "a real stabilizing factor for the school for years to come. I thank God for that gift."

—Catherine Gewertz cgewertz@epe.org.

Vol. 20, Issue 5, Page 5

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