Share in the Spirit helps families send children to Catholic schools

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St. Peter Cathedral School has been part of the lives of the McGowan family for decades. So when it came time for alumna Tina McGowan to enroll her older daughter in school, the choice was simple. Cheyenne McGowan is now in seventh grade, and her sister, Ari Graham, is a second-grader.

Chris Kotula wanted his daughters in an environment where the faith was part of their learning. He found that for third-grader Emily Oliver at Christ the Teacher School in Glasgow. A younger daughter, Lillian Kotula, will begin there next year, and Kotula plans to enroll his son, Anthony, when he is old enough.

The common thread for McGowan and Kotula is that neither would be able to afford Catholic school without assistance from the diocese’s Share in the Spirit campaign. This year, 317 students have received some aid so that they could make a Catholic education possible for their children. The diocese received more than 800 applications representing 1,259 children. More than $4.3 million would be needed to fulfill the maximum need of every qualifying family, according to the diocese. McGowan, a single mother, said she is grateful for the assistance; without it, her daughters would not be at St. Peter’s.

“I’m just grateful that I have this opportunity,” she said. “It’s really a blessing. That’s what I had and that’s what my siblings had. I love the fact that we were fortunate enough to get the education we did at St. Peter’s.”

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McGowan works in the cafeteria of a local public school and said there is nothing wrong with the education her children would receive there. But at St. Peter’s, they are in small classes, and the Daughters of Charity who staff the school make a huge difference. A few years ago, McGowan’s father died, and Sister Barbara Ann Curran – who was the principal and had known McGowan since her early childhood – sensed that the young mother needed a boost. Sister Barbara Ann asked McGowan to help out with lunch at the school.

“At the time, I didn’t have a job. My mother was paying for the two. (Sister Barbara Ann) saw that I needed an outlet, just something to get my morale back. She also had me do after care. She’s an angel,” McGowan said.

Kotula’s daughter started in public school, but he and his fiancée, Roxanne Wenger, didn’t believe she was being pushed as hard as she could have been. He said he had relatives who had attended Catholic schools and seemed to be a step ahead. They wanted that for their children.

“The thing that I really like, it’s completely different. It’s night and day,” he said. “People that don’t know Catholic school won’t see that. I’ve seen the difference between public school and Catholic school.”

Tina McGowan is able to send her daughters Cheyenne McGowan (left) and Ari Graham to St. Peter Cathedral School thanks in part to assistance she receives through Share in the Spirit. McGowan graduated from the school and wanted the same for her daughters. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Tina McGowan is able to send her daughters Cheyenne McGowan (left) and Ari Graham to St. Peter Cathedral School thanks in part to assistance she receives through Share in the Spirit. McGowan graduated from the school and wanted the same for her daughters. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

In addition to academics, Emily is taking advantage of extracurricular activities as well. She has been a cheerleader and is in the choir. This year, she hopes to play soccer or basketball. The students have held fundraisers for various causes. And she has come home talking about her faith, which definitely would not happen in a public school, said Kotula, a resident of Elkton, Md., and member of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish. It’s been a learning experience for him as well.

“Seeing her go to Catholic school and hearing the stories she comes home with, she’s kind of schooling me a little bit. It’s been so long since I’ve been in Sunday school, it’s very good to see young eyes open to things that in public school they wouldn’t be open to, you know, God and helping people,” he said.

McGowan, who lives in Wilmington’s Cool Springs neighborhood and attends Sacred Heart Oratory, sings the praises of St. Peter’s to her co-workers and friends whenever she has the opportunity.

“St. Peter’s is great, the way that they teach and incorporate the faith. But not only that. It’s like a home, so loving,” she said.

Kotula, who works on electronic signs for the state of Maryland, said a similar positive atmosphere exists at Christ the Teacher, and he will do whatever it takes to make sure all three of his children can attend. The tuition is a stretch for him and his fiancée, who is currently looking for a job, but it is a sacrifice he is willing to make.

“It’s hard to put $5,000 into a school, but I want her to get the best education possible. I’d do anything in the world. At the end of the day, I want the best for my kids.”