Nonprofit announces largest single investment in Catholic school education history

Diocese of Gary Schools Students from the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools. | Credit: Big Shoulders Fund

The Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation, announced June 12 that it will be donating $150 million over the next 10 years to the Big Shoulders Fund, which will invest the funds in initiatives that aim to improve the quality, accessibility, and sustainability of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana.

This is the largest single investment in pre-K–12 Catholic education in history.

Driven by its founder’s vision, the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation supports “catalytic community projects and self-sustaining initiatives that cultivate a strong quality of life in Northwest Indiana and statewide,” according to its website.

The Big Shoulders Fund was founded in 1986 to ensure that children in Chicago’s most under-resourced areas could have access to quality, values-based education. In 2019, it was invited by civic leaders and philanthropic funding to replicate their work in Northwest Indiana by sharing its model with Catholic schools in the Diocese of Gary.

A student from the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools. Credit: Big Shoulders Fund
A student from the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools. Credit: Big Shoulders Fund

Bill Hanna, executive director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, told CNA that their hope is to “provide every student access to a high-quality, values-based education that creates strong academic and career outcomes.”

He added: “The primary focus of the investment will be on serving students and communities with the greatest amount of economic and educational need. We hope that this investment will develop the nation’s most effective network of outcomes-based Catholic schools.”

Bishop Robert J. McClory of the Diocese of Gary in a press release called the donation “a historic and transformative commitment from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, the largest single investment ever given for pre-K–12 Catholic education.”

“On behalf of all families who will benefit from this commitment, we are thankful and filled with great hope for the future. This is an enormous vote of confidence for Catholic education and the value of our individual schools,” he said. “I am honored by the continued commitment of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, Big Shoulders Fund, and our community. This gift creates an opportunity for the Diocese of Gary to fulfill our mission even more vibrantly to support families and enhance our schools to become an extraordinary model of Catholic school education.” 

“We are eager to go forward and experience the impact this commitment and collaboration will have on the lives of our students, their families, our teachers, and our communities.”

McClory wrote in an email to CNA that this donation will give the diocese the “opportunity to help every student in our schools to excel” and hopes it will “inspire others to consider how they can support Catholic schools in their own communities and nationwide.”

Students and teachers from the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools. Credit: Big Shoulders Fund
Students and teachers from the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools. Credit: Big Shoulders Fund

In addition to serving students and communities with the greatest amount of economic and educational need in Northwest Indiana,  the investment will support initiatives that focus on curriculum development, teacher training, leadership development, infrastructure improvements, and student support services as well as new governance models, management structures, and assistance with enrollment and tuition management.

Colleen Brewer, Diocese of Gary superintendent of Catholic schools, told CNA: “A gift of this magnitude gives the Diocese of Gary the opportunity to open our doors to more students, serve our families in a deeper way, and be able to elevate our current success.” 

“Too often, finances are a barrier in doing what you want to do in a school,” she added. “Now we can identify the needs we are presented with and have the partners and resources to directly address those problems for the benefit of the students. This type of gift is a symbol of trust.”

Thanks to the resources and funding provided through this investment, Big Shoulders Fund will be able to provide accessible and transformative pre-K–12 education to at least 20 schools across four counties in the Diocese of Gary Catholic school network.

Additionally, the Diocese of Gary announced that it will establish an independent endowment with The Catholic Foundation for Northwest Indiana, a nonprofit organization, by the end of the year. The hope is to have the invested endowment funds grow up to $50 million over the next 15 years and be used for the retention and compensation of principals, teachers, and staff within diocesan schools.

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