Editor’s note: This monthly series looks at the many programs that are financially supported by the Diocesan Services Appeal in the Diocese of Palm Beach. Donations to the DSA stay local, financing 47 Catholic initiatives within our five counties. The funding protects the most vulnerable among us, from the unborn child to the elderly, provides food for those who are hungry, sustains our Catholic schools, supports seminarians preparing for the priesthood and much more. This installment in the series explores Catholic school support programs.
PALM BEACH GARDENS | With support from donations to the Diocesan Services Appeal, the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach helps to enhance the value of a Christ-centered education. One way the office does that is by increasing revenues other than raising tuition.
“One thing our office focuses on is increasing outside revenue, and so we work very hard with donors to build the Lumen Christi Scholarship Appeal as well as other named scholarships, and those funds are given by the diocese to the schools and the schools allocate the funds, which is a key part of the program. Schools really control that funding,” said Gary Gelo, who has been diocesan superintendent of schools since 2011.
Those named scholarships — Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Lester N. Stockard, Helping Hands, Second Collection, Norma T. Pace, Skaff Family, and Eugene and Mary Murphy, along with Lumen Christi — now add up to $1.3 million per year, he said.
To increase the amount of funding from government scholarship programs, the schools office recently hired former Cardinal Newman High School principal Katie Kervi as program manager. Her experience as a longtime Catholic school educator and parent will be invaluable, Gelo said.
“One of the reasons we hired Katie was to maximize what our schools can get through federal and state programs,” he said. “Her job is going to be to work with our schools, but also with the public school districts to enhance the funds and services that are available for students with special needs, and other similar services, through federal programs.”
John Clarke, assistant superintendent, emphasized that many students in Catholic schools qualify for scholarships, and more families could benefit.
“We’re looking to increase that assistance that’s rightfully theirs,” he said. “The parents are taxpayers, and it’s out there, so we’re trying to support that student population.”
A key item that the DSA helps provide is professional development for teachers and administrators, increasing their knowledge and experience as educators, Gelo said.
“The DSA really helps us to fund the professional development opportunities for teachers, especially in the area of our Catholic faith,” he said. “We have at least one major meeting each year focused on that. And then we also work with the Sophia Institute and a private donor to support at least one, if not two, workshops a year through their programs.”
Through the years, his office has brought in many speakers to help enhance teachers’ expertise. Typically, there are two professional development days each year, with one focusing on curriculum and secular matters, the other on Catholic identity.
The faith development of teachers also is a priority for the Office of Catholic Schools, Gelo said. “All of our teachers have to be certified as catechists. They have to go through some level of catechist training.”
Another component of his office is developing educational leaders who will be the administrators of the future.
“We had a fair number of people in our pipeline, and we need to continue to grow and build that so we have future leaders in the wings waiting to take over as principals as people retire and move on,” he said. “But we’re blessed. We have really amazing principals and administrators, and they do a great job. Replacing them is going to be very difficult because they’re so good.”
Thanks to the generosity of Diocesan Services Appeal donors, efforts to support Catholic schools are supported by the Diocese of Palm Beach. The faithful’s participation in the appeal is a vital part of the diocese’s ability to provide these services. For more information about schools, visit www.diocesepbschools.org or access the social media sites for schools in your area. To contact Gary Gelo, call 561-775-9547 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For details on the DSA and how to donate, go to https://www.diocesepb.org/ministriesoffices/offices/development/diocesan-services-appeal/.