The return of autumn signals, for lakes area supporters of Catholic education, the annual St. Francis Catholic School Foundation's endowment dinner.
The event, now in its third year, is scheduled for the night of Sept. 24 at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge near Deerwood. Chairperson Mary Boran said, "Everything except the cost of the meal goes to the endowment fund." The cost per plate is $100.
"It's just a wonderful menu," Boran said. Last year's fund-raiser at Iven's on the Bay, the previous year's at Kavanaugh's on Lake Sylvan, offered guests cuisine such as roasted tenderloin with Merlot demi-glaze, shrimp bake with citrus butter, twice baked potatoes, mixed greens with strawberries, pecans, and raspberry vinaigrette, and creme brulee. This year's menu, still a secret, will no doubt be equally appealing. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a social hour set to chamber music. Dinner will be served at 7 A program centered on the past, present and future of St. Francis School, will follow dinner.
"This is one way that we tap some of our area Catholics who are done paying tuition, done raising their kids and want to support Catholic education," says Boran. "Since we started the foundation just a couple of years ago we're getting more donations. People come (for the dinner) from as far away as Pine River, and St. Mathias Church, and just believe in Catholic education and want to support it in our area."
St. Francis' senior pastor Father Seamus Walsh says that this parochial elementary school is the only one in the local Catholic deanery. The lakes area deanery encompasses 14 parishes, including St. Francis and St. Andrew's in Brainerd, and is one of the five deaneries into which the Duluth diocese is divided.
"What's really unique about the foundation is that money that's given to it stays right here at St. Francis School and takes care of the immediate needs of that school," Boran said.
"St. Francis Grade School was opened in 1909 in a two-story, eight classroom building," states the school's handbook."The present building was built in 1952 with the gymnasium portion being added shortly thereafter." Today 154 children, in kindergarten through 7th grade, are enrolled at St. Francis, with an additional 80 children active in its preschool.
Foundation board members include Father Walsh, Dave Boran, Lloyd Kummet, John Fitzpatrick and Bob Verkennes. Two of Verkennes' three children attended St. Francis School, even though the family's home is in Nisswa and they're members of that community's parish, St. Christopher's. One factor Verkennes believes parents should know is the availability of busing from the Pequot Lakes and Nisswa areas to St. Francis in Brainerd. And the school follows the same schedule as area public schools, Verkennes points out, as a convenience for families. His youngest daughter moved on to Franklin Junor High last year.
"Frankly," Verkennes said, "the school does an excellent job of preparing kids for junior high."
Fr. Walsh said, "The St. Francis School Foundation is a legal entity and is set up to accept gifts of money, stock, land and other valuables that donors might wish to give." And Verkennes, a banker, verifies that. "The Foundation and board were established in 1996. We're incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We're incorporated in the state of Minnesota, which means donations made to the Foundation are tax deductible." He sees the upcoming dinner as "important for providing cash to add to the endowment, and it gets the message out to the people within the area to support Catholic education." Verkennes made a point of saying how enjoyable the first two annual events have been. Both times, the facilities were filled to capacity. This year, with more spacious accommodations, St. Francis supporters are hoping for the biggest crowd yet.
"The purpose of the foundation is to build up such an amount (at least one-half million dollars) before we begin to touch it. When it is used, it will be for scholarships, definitely. Other uses will be determined by the Foundation board," said Fr. Walsh. When asked what the Foundation's funds total at this point, Walsh replied, "It must be about $150,000 -- maybe a bit more. This will be our most ambitious event in terms of the goal we hope to reach." That goal, for this year's endowment dinner, is $20,000. Other money for the school comes from St. Francis parish member donations, neighboring parishes, the school's own fund-raising efforts, and tuition, Walsh said.
Verkennes said, "We've raised $150,000 over the last four years, with a goal of $1,000,000 in ten years ... In St. Cloud, for instance, a lot of Catholic elementary schools and Cathedral High School are experiencing the benefits of local foundations. The increased cost of running parochial schools, and public schools, continues to rise, and this provides one method to keep up with those costs."
For more information about the third annual St. Francis Catholic School Foundation's endowment dinner, or about the Foundation itself, please call the parish office at 829-8753 during regular business hours, or Mary Boran at 828-1005 after normal business hours.
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