Share in the Spirit -
Passing on the faith to another generation
Rachel Fawcett learned the value of Catholic education in more ways than one when she was growing up.
Now she is learning more about the sacrifices her parents made to send her and her two siblings to St. Anthony of Padua School in Wilmington. As a single parent, she is sending her son Mikhail (pronounced McHale, as in “McHale’s Navy”) to St. Anthony.
“There’s something special about St. Anthony’s that I really don’t think you get at other schools,” Fawcett said.
About 100 miles southeast of St. Anthony’s, at Most Blessed Sacrament School in Ocean Pines, Md., another single parent, widow Eileen Vitaliti, wanted her son to continue his Catholic education when they moved to the Lower Eastern Shore from Prince George’s County following the death of her husband and loss of their home.
Last year, with a refund from her son Paul’s previous school after they moved, Vitaliti was able to pay the full tuition to send Paul to Most Blessed Sacrament. But as a single mom living on workman’s compensation, the former phlebotomist knew things would be much tighter this year.
Thanks to the generosity of Catholics in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, both Mikhail and Paul are able to continue their Catholic educations this school year. Their families are among 295 that received tuition assistance grants this year from the Diocese of Wilmington.
Money for the grants comes from the annual Share in the Spirit collection and from interest accumulated by investments of the diocese’s Vision for the Future Education Trust fund. This year’s grants total $604,000, of which $214,000 came from last year’s Share in the Spirit collection.
The annual collection was started in 2005 by the late Bishop Michael Saltarelli. The Vision for the Future Education Trust was established in the early 1990s, with the first tuition assistance grants awarded in 1993.
Bishop Francis Malooly noted that while all Catholic school parents make sacrifices to provide a faith-based Catholic education for their children, a little help like that provided by the Share in the Spirit collection can determine whether some children will receive that opportunity.
“Many of our families struggle to pay for a Catholic education while providing the necessities of life – food, shelter, and the like – for their children,” he said. “For many, the decision has to be to meet the basics of life. Even a little help for these families can make the difference in whether their children attend Catholic schools. That is the point of this collection.”
Participating in the collection is one way Catholics in the Diocese of Wilmington can put into action Pope Francis’ call to remember those who are struggling within our midst, the bishop said.
It also is a way for Catholics to “be the face of Christ for others’ and to share their good fortune in passing on the faith to another generation of youngsters.”
Paul Vitaliti found a home at Most Blessed Sacrament, his mother said, thanks in part to its being “an art-integrated school.” Paul said he would like to design video games one day, which requires an eye for the arts.
But most of all Eileen Vitaliti said she wants a safe school environment with caring teachers in a faith-based value system for her son, much like the Catholic education she received in Prince George’s County.
Compounding the family’s challenges, Paul had surgery on his left foot over summer break and now has to wheel around with his left lower leg on a scooter. He faces more surgery on his other foot to correct problems with it. That means he cannot play basketball or golf this year, two of his favorite pastimes.
It may also hamper his service as an altar server at St. John Neumann Church, adjacent to the Most Blessed Sacrament campus.
In Wilmington, Rachel Fawcett wishes her daughter, fourth-grader Grace, could also attend St. Anthony, as she did through second grade. But an attention deficit disorder led Fawcett to enroll Grace at Gateway Lab School, which specializes in educating children with learning disorders.
She fondly remembers her years as a student at St. Anthony.
“It’s just a great community. You get a great education there,” she said. “It’s like my second home.”
That family atmosphere helped her and her family through the December 1997 death of her father, William Fawcett Jr., while she was a freshman at St. Elizabeth and her two siblings were still at St. Anthony.
“People (at St. Anthony’s) just banded together to get us through the grieving process, and to help send us to school,” she said. “I want Mikhail to know that he would be loved and taken care of just like we were.”
St. Elizabeth High School also helped the family through that traumatic period.
Fawcett assists at St. Anthony of Padua any time she can, one way she can try to pay back that community, and both she and Mikhail help at Mom’s House, an organization that helps single parents continue their education by providing safe, God-centered daycare. In both cases it is more than a family sense. It’s a pay-back.
Fawcett became pregnant with Mikhail shortly after graduating from high school.
“I knew I needed to support Mikhail in the best way I could and that college would afford me that opportunity,” she said, noting that she worked on her bachelor’s degree in paralegal at Widener University from 2003 to 2008. Grace was born in 2005.
“A lot of that time I waited tables for a living and had a lot of help and support from my family and Mom’s House so I could complete school. Both Mikhail and Grace attended my graduation. It was a very proud moment.”
She helps with Mom’s House fundraisers, and got the law firm for which she works to adopt three Mom’s House families this past Christmas.
Even with the Share in the Spirit grant, things are still tight. “I don’t have a brand new car. We don’t have cable,” she said from her two-story row home in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood, just two blocks from the school. “I still have to sacrifice to send him to a Catholic school, just like any other parent.”
For now she can only thank those who give to the Share in the Spirit collection for the opportunity they have given Mikhail.
“Without their generosity Mikhail wouldn’t be able to attend St. Anthony’s,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to afford the full tuition and still feed them.”