WASHINGTON(September 2, 2005)—Catholic schools from across the nation are opening their doors to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana, which has seven elementary schools, for example, enrolled more than 200 students in the days after displaced people from afflicted dioceses moved into the Shreveport area.
Shreveport Superintendent Sister Carol Shively said the increased number of students calls for an increased number of teachers. "We are in need of teachers who are willing to simply donate in the name of the Lord," she said.
Dioceses are offering tuition-free attendance, free books and backpacks, and whatever else students need as students begin the school year away from home. Relatives living thousands of miles away who are taking in nieces and nephews from the Gulf Coast area are finding that their local Catholic schools also have agreed to help displaced persons.
In some areas teachers also have been advised of special needs that students will have because of the trauma of the upheaval.
Schools in non-affected areas, such as the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, are twinning with affected schools and planning various fundraising activities. One named "Katrina's Kids" already is underway in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida.
Routine concerns about cost, paperwork, even class size, have been put aside.
Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, the U.S. Bishops' Secretary for Education, praised the work and pledged that Catholic schools across the country would do whatever was needed to bring stability and hope to students affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our top priority are students, from pre-school to college," she said. "Throughout the country there are efforts to bring stability to students' lives by providing them with educational opportunities so that their schooling will be as uninterrupted as possible."
She also applauded the efforts of the National Catholic Educational Association (www.ncea.org) and its Child to Child campaign whereby Catholic school children and students in religious education programs will be extending a helping hand – one dollar at a time – to their counterparts in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
In Jackson, Mississippi, where the population doubled in four days, Sister Deborah Hughes, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the diocese will have open doors for whoever wants to come to any Catholic school in the diocese.
"The financial aspect (tuition, hiring new teachers, etc.) of all this cannot be a priority right now," she said. The diocesan school office will assist schools if they have financial needs as a result of bringing in these new students. "I believe in my heart that people will come forward to help," she said. Catholic school superintendents from throughout the country already had contacted her, she said.
Three Catholic schools in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, accepted students, as did schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. just days after the hurricane struck. Similar announcements also have been made by the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, and elsewhere. The Dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri also is seeing students from the stricken area arrive to live with relatives and attend local Catholic schools.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, all pastors and principals were asked to welcome students from Catholic schools in the devastated region and to waive tuition for those who are financially in need and to contact the Archdiocese's Catholic school office for assistance in providing uniforms, books and supplies. Principals throughout the nation also are contacting uniform companies and text book companies to assist as needed.
Private Catholic schools run by religious orders are assisting other schools of their order. In Tulsa, for example, the Christian Brothers high school is helping their brother schools in New Orleans. A school staffed by the Salesian order in St. Petersburg, Florida, will assist other Salesian schools the Gulf coast region.
The superintendent in the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, notified schools to enroll refugees even "without proof of birth, immunization, or tuition as may be necessary" she said. Other dioceses have issued similar notifications.
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, in opening their schools tuition free to displaced children noted that "schools will be handling uniforms, books, supplies and lunch money for these children," said Superintendent Linda Cherry.
Susan Mueller, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, said the local schools have approximately 45 students from the New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi areas. "Our diocese is offering one year's free tuition (including other fees to all those who are here because of Katrina," she said. "We are also starting the 'Katrina's Kids' fund to help them and the schools that welcome them in any way we can."
The Diocese of Dallas, Texas, is also accepting students. Dallas's local Reunion Arena is being used as a shelter so the diocese has asked all schools to collect games and toys and books that can be given to the people in the Reunion area. The diocese also has asked displaced teachers "to come and apply to be substitute teachers." Schools in the diocese also are making parents aware of families housing relatives that have been displaced and are trying to unify a support system for the hosting families.
In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, Brother John Cummings, superintendent of schools, alerted schools to deal with the stress students may experience. He distributed advice from the Jackson Health System and the University of Miami School of Medicine.
In the Diocese of Venice, Florida, Catholic schools are welcoming displaced elementary and high school students and providing backpacks and school supplies. Efforts also are being made through parishes and schools to locate housing for these students and their families.