By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

BENSALEM – Thanks to the Pennsylvania EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit), selected school students from five Lower Bucks County parishes who meet the income criteria will receive a total of $217,000 in tuition grants next year, it was announced at a ceremony held at the Bensalem Township Building on Nov. 13.

The grants, which are made by local businesses in return for credits against their Pennsylvania state taxes, are channeled through two designated state-approved scholarship funds, one administered by BLOCS (Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools), the other by the Henkels Foundation, based in Blue Bell.

The BLOCS portion, $117,000, represents contributions from a number of companies and is up $30,000 from last year’s grant of $87,000, according to Christina DiMichele, associate director of BLOCS.

Parishes whose students will receive grants are St. Charles Borromeo, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Ephrem, and Our Lady of Fatima, all in Bensalem and St. Thomas Aquinas in Croydon.

The other $100,000, which is earmarked for students of St. Charles, St. Elizabeth, St. Ephrem and Our Lady of Fatima parishes, represent the contribution of a single donor, Philadelphia Park Race Track, which also directed $150,000 in EITC funds to Father Judge High School, according to Maria Marston, program coordinator at the Henkels Foundation.

At St. Elizabeth Parish, where the elementary school students attend St. Charles Borromeo School, “about 20 percent of our kids are eligible for this,” said Father Michael Lonergan, St. Elizabeth’s pastor. “This helps families all the way up to middle class, but some of the families wouldn’t be able to make it without this help.”

The ceremony was attended by pastors, principals, civic dignitaries – including Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo and a representative of State Senator Robert Tomlinson – and officers of the donor companies.

“I’m thrilled to death about this,” said Gene DiGirolamo. “For a lot of families it’s a real struggle to get a Catholic education and this money goes a long way. When I went to St. Charles it didn’t cost a penny.”

Dolores Linder, of St. Elizabeth Parish, knows exactly what he means. She’s a full-time nursing school student with three children in Catholic schools – Andrew in sixth grade, Amber in third grade at St. Charles, and Amanda, a freshman at St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls. “This is a wonderful, wonderful program. Without it there is no way my husband and I could afford to send our children to Catholic school with me full-time in school,” she said. “I went to Catholic school and my husband did as well. There is no comparison to a Catholic education.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.