With school vouchers and Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) under Pennsylvania’s legislative microscope, students in the Archdiocese focused on the benefits of a Catholic education on May 20, Voucher Sunday.

Teens like Mary Fitzpatrick, a senior at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, urged the faithful to contribute to their parish schools and parochial high schools, and put pressure on their legislators to approve vouchers that would provide parents with the financial resources to select the best school for their child.

Mary, a senior who plans to study elementary special education at Bloomsburg University in the fall, said she received a positive response from fellow parishioners at Queen of the Universe Church in Levittown.

“I wanted to help everyone understand how important it is to get the religious, as well as the academic education offered by Catholic school,” she said. “And Catholic school classes are smaller and you can have a more comfortable environment.”

Mary is the daughter of U.S. Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, and she knows well that her father will be among those lawmakers contacted about the issue by constituents of the Eighth Congressional District.

Voucher Sunday was also meant to call attention to the need for an expanded EITC program in Pennsylvania. EITC allows businesses to use tax credits to support local schools. In Bensalem, for instance, the Parx Casino provides assistance to students of St. Ephrem School and St. Charles Borromeo School.

Msgr. Kenneth McAteer, pastor of St. Ephrem, said he fully supports the voucher program because it would allow parents — who are taxpayers — more educational options.

“They could choose any school but hopefully they’d choose a Catholic school,” Msgr. McAteer said.

Conwell-Egan was one of many schools recently slated for closure by the archdiocesan Blue Ribbon Commission. St. Ephrem was designated as a “receiving” school, which means it was tapped to accept students from one of the elementary schools on the closings list.

Archbishop Charles Chaput spared Conwell-Egan and three other high schools, as well as several elementary schools. But keeping them open will require pro-active measures by parish communities, he said.

In his May 16 column, the Archbishop issued a plea for Catholics in the Archdiocese to e-mail, call or meet with their legislators to urge that the voucher and EITC initiative to be brought to the House floor and approved.

Matthew MacNamara, also a senior at Conwell-Egan, spoke at Our Lady of Grace Church in Penndel on Voucher Sunday. He told his listeners that the quality of education he received ensured a brighter future for himself and his classmates.

Matthew will begin business studies at Penn State University in September, but he made it clear during his talk that he believes the morals and values instilled in him at Conwell-Egan will steer him through pitfalls that young people navigate once they go away to college.

Approximately 500 students spoke at more than 1,000 Masses throughout the Archdiocese.