By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Tyler Rutledge is a freshman at De Sales University in Center Valley, Pa.; Sarah Rzepczynski is a freshman at St. Hubert High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia; Emily Coleman is in sixth grade at St. Martin of Tours School in Philadelphia. All three are receiving Catholic education, at least in part, due to the generosity of the alumni of a high school that now exists only in fond memory.

Northeast Catholic High School, once Philadelphia’s largest Catholic school, closed its doors forever this past June, but its alumni association is very much alive and determined to support Catholic education far into the future.

This school year it unveiled an ambitious $250,000 yearly scholarship program for Catholic high schools, colleges and upper grade parochial elementary schools. Eligibility is limited to the children and grandchildren of active alumni, but that’s a large group. {{more}}

“We have about 4,500 active alumni and 22,000 on our mailing list,” said John Hanejko, ’65, president of the Northeast Catholic Alumni Association. “It’s a legacy; the association started in 1968 with the formation of a scholarship fund, and with the support of the alumni we will continue to support Catholic education.”

Leonard Knobbs, ’53, was the founding chairman of the scholarship, and has held either that post or his current position of treasurer ever since. In the beginning, he explained, the fund was founded to provide graduating seniors with scholarships to Allentown College (now De Sales University) because it was conducted by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the religious order that conducted North. It was later expanded to include other local Catholic colleges.

When enrollment began to slip at North, mostly due to escalating tuition costs that were pricing Catholic families with moderate income out of Catholic education, the alumni association switched its funding from college scholarships to high school scholarships at North, and over the years literally supplied millions to keep their alma mater open, Knobbs explained. Now that the school is closed, the scholarships will assist students at all three levels of education.

Funding for the scholarships is through current alumni donations and income from the endowment fund built up over the years.

“My dad (Joseph Steinmetz, ’82) and grandfather (Thomas Becker, ’55) are North Catholic graduates and so are my uncles,” said Abigail Steinmetz, a St. Martin of Tours graduate, now a freshman at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls thanks to a North alumni grant. Little Flower happens to be the school where many, if not most, of the sisters of North students attended.

Steinmetz’s grant, $12,000 spread out over four years, “means a lot. It can help my parents further my Catholic education at Little Flower,” she said.

Daniel Bowers, a La Salle College High School graduate now a La Salle University freshman, owes his grant to both of his grandfathers, Francis Bowers, North ’58, and Harry Fisher, ’57.

“The school was so important to my grandparents, and this helps with my education,” he said.

At this time, Knobbs explained, the alumni are giving three $20,000 grants and three $12,000 grants toward college education. Applicants must apply during their senior year of high school.

There are five $12,000 grants, five $8,000 grants and five $4,000 grants for high school; applicants must apply while in eighth grade. Elementary school grants, which cover the three upper grades, are six $4,500 grants and five $1,500 grants. The scholarships in all cases are spread out over the four years of high school and three in grade school, and granted based on academic achievement and need. Students must meet certain minimum standards for the grants to continue.

Elementary schools have been included, Knobbs explained, because escalating costs have affected them also, and children who do not go to a Catholic grade school are less likely to go to a Catholic high school.

For those who are applying for a college grant, they must be planning to attend one of the following: De Sales University, Cabrini College, Chestnut Hill College, Georgian Court University, Gwynedd-Mercy College, Holy Family University, Immaculata University, La Salle University, Neumann University, Rosemont College, St. Charles Seminary College spanision, St. Joseph’s University or Villanova University.

For the high school and elementary school grants, the schools must be diocesan or parochial schools within the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia or the dioceses of Camden or Trenton, N.J.

This stipulation was established, Knobbs explained, because according to their database, most of the alumni reside in these three dioceses.

Applications for next year’s scholarships will be made available through The Falconer, the Northeast Catholic Alumni Association newsletter.

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