With several different funding structures for Canadian Catholic Schools, varying from province to province, it’s easy to forget the sincere struggle and significant sacrifices that some Canadians are making to offer or attend Catholic Schools in their communities.
For some families, choosing a Catholic School is as simple as checking a box on a form. For others, it means taking on a second job to afford tuition payments.
Some Catholic Schools in Canada are blessed with full-salaried teachers, support staff and access to resources to assist struggling students while some of our schools have staff who work endlessly to fulfill all of those roles at once to try and balance the needs of the school with a very limited budget.
Toonies for Tuition is creating a beautiful story of bridging the gap between these vastly different funding structures and allowing the financial burden placed on some families, to be shouldered by Catholic Education supporters across the country.
We had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Carolyn Barry, Founder and Principal of Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in Fredericton, NB, to learn more about the struggles and joys of operating a Catholic School with no public funding. We were humbled to hear several real-life stories of families who have been directly impacted by receiving Toonies for Tuition funding in the last two years and it inspired us to continue working to grow this essential campaign.
About Our Lady of Grace
What had initially started as a small co-op homeschooling initiative in New Maryland, NB, grew officially into Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in 2007 – one of two Catholic Schools offered in New Brunswick.
The first location of the school was Dr. Barry’s home – where she welcomed students and staff each day for the first two years of the school’s existence. In 2009, the school relocated to the Church hall of a local United Church where they’ve remained for the past 13 years.
Students from all over the Fredericton area attend Our Lady of Grace and the student population of about 30 students, from Pre-K to Grade 10, remains steady each year.
“Our students have done very, very well.” Dr. Barry reflected. “A couple of years ago I went to all of our graduates and learned that they had all gone to either university or community college. Academically, they’ve done very well. One of our graduates is currently in novitiate to become a sister and we’ve had several solid Catholic marriages come from Our Lady of Grace graduates who are now raising their kids in the Church. So for me, that’s the most beautiful part – seeing the carry-over effect and that this education is impacting students into their adulthood.”
The school has a small but dedicated group of staff, each of whom agree to work for a small salary with no health benefits. Commenting on her small but faithful staff, Dr. Barry added,
“They are a wonderful group of teachers who love being at the school. God just sends us teachers and we are so grateful.”
New Brunswick is one of the provinces with no public funding for Catholic Education. Striving to keep tuition to a minimum for families, Our Lady of Grace depends heavily on the support of the community through fundraisers hosted throughout the year.
In response to our inquiry as to how they make ends meet each year, Dr. Barry shared,
“The Knights of Columbus host a breakfast for us every year and donate the proceeds to the school. We also make money through our annual Christmas production, bake sales and yard sales. Somehow God looks after us and we always have enough money to make ends meet. It’s a little worrisome sometimes but it always works out in the end.”
Toonies for Tuition at Our Lady of Grace
Dr. Barry spoke highly of the significant impact that Toonies for Tuition has made on Our Lady of Grace throughout the years.
“The Toonies for Tuition program has been really vital to us because our budget is so low.” Dr. Barry explained. “Receiving the money from Toonies, whatever amount is available each year, is a very big help to us and our families.”
When asked about the stories of families who have received funding in her school, Dr. Barry shared with us two moving stories of families in her community whose attendance at school depended on Toonies funding:
“We have a little family who arrived in Fredericton from Africa and we took them under our wing at the school. The mother is a single mother who struggled to make ends meet and we took in her kids who had hardly received any education at all prior to their arrival at our school.
“We spent thousands of hours working with them trying to catch them up academically while helping them adjust to the new culture. After a lot of hard work, they’re now doing very well. They’re growing in confidence and the mother is absolutely delighted. The mother struggles to pay any tuition at all because of her difficult circumstances and so we try to find her some work she can do to help us at the school and for the last several years, we’ve received money from Toonies for Tuition to help cover the cost of educating her children.
It’s such a joy for us to see how well they’re doing now and how much their life has been impacted by joining our school community at Our Lady of Grace. We’re doing everything we can to ensure they can continue to stay with us but the Toonies for Tuition donations have been crucial in allowing them to stay here.
There was another family in our school community who had endured a tremendous loss last year, resulting in the mother being extremely sick and the father being unable to work. Of course we wanted their children to continue their education at our school despite these setbacks and I was able to secure some money for them from the Toonies for Tuition program.
It took about a year for them to start turning things around but the husband has found work and the mother is doing much better. It was just one of those unexpected life events for that family that they never anticipated – and so Toonies for Tuition last year was vital for them and they were so grateful for the immense help it offered them in their most difficult year.”
Listening to these stories of struggle and sacrifice reminded us of the heart of the Toonies Campaign.
We’re so inspired by people like Dr. Barry, who are doing everything they can to offer Catholic Education in their communities despite great difficulties. Regardless of the province or territory, each and every Catholic School in Canada is working towards the same mission of Catholic Education and we want to do everything we can to support this mission for years to come in Canada.
When we asked Dr. Barry about the impact of the pandemic on their school, Dr. Barry shared that the faithful staff and community rallied together to ensure students were educated online and the bills were paid.
The Toonies for Tuition campaign, however, was heavily impacted by the pandemic.
Because of the significant loss in Toonies fundraising across the country, there are currently more families than ever who apply for funding through Toonies but don’t receive it because of the limited amount we have to give out.
That’s why we chose this year’s Toonies for Tuition theme, “I can do small things with great love.”
We look to the vast and beautiful legacy of Mother Teresa whose impact was enormous – but whose success was attributed to just being present to one small act of love, to one person in-need at a time.
Toonies has the potential to create an enormous legacy of enabling the mission of Catholic Education to thrive in this period of Canadian History – but it begins with attentiveness to those most in-need and small gifts of love given from around the country.
We want to work together to allow every child – from every community – access to a Catholic Education. One toonie at a time, we can work together to restore this essential fundraising campaign, support the mission of Catholic Education in every part of Canada and allow families of every background to be impacted by the gift of Catholic Education.
We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Barry for sharing with us these tender stories and giving us a window into the incredible workings of a small Canadian Catholic School.
We’ve curated special resources this year for our Toonies for Tuition Campaign to help our members join the cause and strengthen this campaign. See here for posters and social media graphics to help us spread the word about Toonies!
To support families who are struggling to choose a Catholic Education this year, consider donating to Toonies for Tuition today.