February 7, 2020
by Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register

The Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic schools are working to increase access and inclusivity in new ways every year. The diocese’s Advancement of Catholic Education (ACE) endowment fund is committed to supporting the mission of Catholic education by helping to meet the growing financial needs of all parochial schools, and every school in the diocese has tuition assistance and scholarships available for qualified students.
If Catholic schools don’t make a concerted effort to welcome a socio-economically diverse student body, “you become exclusive,” said Deacon Bill Hill, who founded the new Spirit of St. Katharine Drexel Memorial scholarship fund for African-American students at Father Ryan High School.
The fund, which now has more than $150,000 in pledges (and is still accepting donations) will award its first scholarship for the 2020-2021 school year, and was designed “to assist Black students-in-need wishing to attend Father Ryan, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.”
Father Ryan, Pope John Paul II High School and St. Cecilia Academy each have a number of financial assistance programs available, based on need, merit and other specific guidelines. 
For parents looking at the sticker price of tuition who may immediately think a Catholic education is out of reach, “please keep talking to us, we will work with you,” said Sister Anne Catherine, O.P., director of advancement at St. Cecilia Academy.
St. Cecilia, an all-girls high school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, is the most expensive school in the diocese, “but we have more diversity than meets the eye,” said Sister Anne Catherine, and that includes students from 45 different zip codes and a range of racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
About 22 percent of St. Cecilia’s student body is from minority groups, and includes African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Middle Eastern students.
No matter their background, the girls “are validated” at St. Cecilia, and are welcome to share their culture with their classmates, Sister Anne Catherine said.
In the first week of February, she noted, a group of African-American students organized a panel to discuss Black History Month and their experiences at St. Cecilia. On another day, a group of Hispanic students could be found in the dance studio practicing a folkloric dance.
St. Cecilia will join the other Catholic schools in Davidson and neighboring counties in accepting applications from students utilizing the state’s Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will allow Davidson and Shelby county families who meet income guidelines to access about $7,100 in state funds annually to attend private school starting in the 2020-2021 school year.
The diocese will again offer ACE Welcome Grants next year at St. Anne, St. Edward, St. John Vianney and St. Pius X schools, which includes a 50 percent tuition discount for first year students and 25 percent tuition discount the next year. 
The diocese has also expanded its Hand in Hand Options program for students with intellectual and development disabilities, and these students can now have access to a K-12 education in local Catholic schools.
“Catholic schools are really meant to be for everybody,” said Sister Anne Catherine. “The main reason for Catholic schools is to preach the person of Jesus Christ, and we want everyone to know about that.”

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