Back-to-school in Uvalde means Catholic school scholarships for hurting families

The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. | Catholic Extension

The school shooting that rocked Uvalde, Texas continues to affect young children and their families. As these families try to recover, a Catholic charity with a longtime link to the area has funded 30 scholarships so that students may attend the local Catholic school.

“The tuition assistance means everything to my son and our family,” said Oscar Orona, whose son survived the school shooting. “My son has gone through a lot, and still has a long road to recovery ahead. At the very least, he deserves to go to a school where he feels safe.”

Catholic Extension is supporting 30 students who were affected by the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a city of about 15,000 in south central Texas 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman entered the school and killed 19 children and two teachers. Another 14 children and a teacher were wounded. Sacred Heart Church hosted funeral Masses for 11 of the victims.

The Mass for 46-year-old teacher Irma Garcia also remembered her 50-year-old husband, Joe Garcia, who died of a heart attack two days after his wife’s death.

Eleven of the new students at Sacred Heart were wounded in the shooting. Their former school is less than a mile and a half away.

The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. Catholic Extension
The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. Catholic Extension

Joe Boland, vice president of missions at Catholic Extension, was at Sacred Heart School on Monday, the first day of school.

“For many of these children, literally the last memory of being in a school building was an experience of a mass shooting,” Boland told CNA on Tuesday.

“We’re very encouraged by the kind of loving, joyful, faithful environment that they are creating at Sacred Heart School in Uvalde and it really gives us hope that it will be a place where these children can begin the long process of healing after the atrocities that they witnessed,” Boland said.

For more than a century, Catholic Extension has worked to serve Catholic parishes and communities in remote areas. It has deep roots in Uvalde. In 1906 the charity sent aid to build Sacred Heart Church and in 1912 it began to fund the construction of the school, which adjoins the church.

“When this horrible crime occurred Catholic Extension remembered its unique connection to the faith community,” Boland said.

Principal Joseph Olan of Sacred Heart School told CNA he wants the school to be a place “where all children will understand that the love for Jesus is the center of (an) academic journey.”

“My hopes for the school year is that our school culture continues to reflect a place of grace, unity, and love,” he said Aug. 17.

“My overall hope is that the students, families, and community understand that school is more than just a place for teaching and learning. It is a beacon of hope for the community, one that can also educate the heart as much as the mind,” the principal said.

The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. Catholic Extension
The first day of school at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Uvalde, Texas, Aug. 15, 2022. Catholic Extension

Boland praised the local community’s response to the shooting. 

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“We are in awe of how the church there rose to the occasion to really accompany these families, who had experienced unimaginable loss and accompanied the entire community, who have experienced just trauma that is going to take many, many years to get over,” he said.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District permanently closed Robb Elementary School and has worked to disperse students to other public schools, though in this small district only four other schools serve primary grade students.

Catholic Extension learned that many families wanted to transfer their children to the nearby Catholic school, but they faced economic barriers. About 80% of the families of Uvalde are low-income households. At least 80 families in total might seek to transfer their students to the Catholic school.

Catholic Extension is asking for donations to its scholarship fund to help meet demand.

“We’re calling upon people to consider giving to the fund,” Boland said. 

The Teresian Sisters, formally known as the Society of St. Theresa of Jesus, have worked at the school for over a century.

With the support of Catholic Extension, sisters from other religious communities will assist them this year. Six additional religious sisters were scheduled to be at Sacred Heart School the first week of class to help provide emotional assistance to both students and teachers. They aim to provide spiritual comfort, peace, and solidarity. Over the next 18 months, about 100 religious sisters will serve Uvalde and the Catholic community in various ways.

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“It was very powerful to see a group of Catholic sisters from a number of different congregations just be in the classrooms yesterday with the children,” Boland said. 

Olan, the school principal, described the sisters as “phenomenal.”

“Our students and staff truly enjoy their company, guidance and wisdom,” he said. “I have noticed that students look to them as mentors, role models, and as friends of Jesus!”

Boland said Catholic Extension wants the scholarship fund to provide an “avenue of healing” so that children and their parents “are going to be able to heal, move forward, and do so through the lens of their own Catholic faith.”

“It's a difficult, painful moment for this for this local community, especially the Catholic faith community that has been so much a part of the lives of the people there,” he said. For Boland, the commitment to helping these children and their families is “a proud moment for the Church.”

The Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of San Antonio are “going to continue to walk with these families for the long haul,” said Boland, who noted the presence of Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio at Sacred Heart School’s opening Mass.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller summarized to Good Morning America his message for the schoolchildren: "God wants to bring everyone joy and glory in heaven. but it is not our time yet. So we need to carry on, and to carry on with joy, because our life has meaning.”

Like the local public schools, Sacred Heart Catholic School has announced efforts to upgrade security. All school supplies, including backpacks, have been donated for pre-K through sixth-grade students at the Catholic school.

The Chicago-based Catholic Extension, formerly known as the Catholic Church Extension Society, was founded in 1905 to help provide the sacraments and other aid to Catholics in remote areas. Today, the organization helps more than 15 million American Catholics. Its work includes grants to build churches and repair facilities. Catholic Extension also provides scholarships for emerging leaders and works to empower various ministries.

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