Remember those Catholic inner-city parish schools we used to have?

I volunteer a couple of hours a week at a school for fifth- to eighth-grade girls, sponsored by seven sisters' communities. A few weeks back, I attended the big fundraiser dinner and auction.

Auction items were high-end, like a private tour and cocktails for 12 at the St. Louis Art Museum, a vacation in Ireland, and a VIP trip to the Indianapolis 500. For the rest of us, instead of a silent auction cluttered with small goods, teachers simply posted their needs with price tags. So I was able to contribute to bus tickets for graduates to get to high school and work. And I paid for goggles for science class. Much better than the toolbox with a built-in flashlight that I acquired but never used -- or all those items I bid on but didn't win, so the money stayed in my pocket. The night event raised $300,000.

At the reception before dinner, appetizers and drinks came with napkins that included a reminder that the cost of a girl's education is $12,000 and that a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult, as well as a quote from Brigham Young: "You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation." Two of the sixth-graders talked with two of the male guests for 15 minutes about their hopes for college and careers. I thanked the men afterward for being so attentive, and they marveled at the girls' poise and eagerness to learn.

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None of our communities could have started this school alone these days. It's been a true collaborative effort and an invitation to generosity we pass on to all our friends. I often pass the sites of some of the inner-city parish schools we used to have. Very few of those schools remain. Diocesan education offices have focused instead on establishing schools in wealthy suburbs. But we've found a way to continue educating poor girls, Catholic or not. 


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