Nonprofit makes largest single investment in Catholic education history

Bible on a school desk in a classroom.
Bible on a school desk in a classroom. | Getty Images

A nonprofit has just pledged to make the largest charitable contribution in the history of Catholic education as leaders at the state and local level work to ensure the availability of affordable, faith-based education for students in Indiana. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary, Indiana, announced in a statement last week that the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as committed to supporting “catalytic projects and initiatives that cultivate a strong quality of life in northwest Indiana and across the state,” will donate over $100 million to a fund that provides scholarships enabling disadvantaged children in the Chicago area to attend Catholic schools. The Big Shoulders Fund will receive $150 million in the next 10 years.

The donation from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation to the Big Shoulders Fund constitutes the largest single investment in PreK-12 Catholic education history. “We know that access to high-quality, values-based education is as important as anything we can support, and our efforts would not be complete without a deep commitment to the Catholic schools that have been a critical part of the fabric of Northwest Indiana for decades,” said Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation Executive Director Bill Hanna.

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“Big Shoulders Fund and the Diocese of Gary have developed an effective partnership over the last five years that led us to this moment. Now is the time to complement other advances in Northwest Indiana at scale by providing significant resources to develop the nation’s most effective network of outcomes-based Catholic schools. It is this seasoned team from across the Region that will see to it that Northwest Indiana continues to build a brighter future for the people here today, and those yet to come.”

Big Shoulders Fund CEO Josh Hale reacted to the donation by vowing to “build upon the great relationship we have with the Diocese of Gary to drive a high-quality, data-driven education model that delivers strong student outcomes.” 

“We’re extremely excited about the doors this investment will open, such as the creation and enhancement of curriculum, advanced professional development and growth opportunities for teachers and school leadership, and, of course, valuable support services for our students.”

“This is truly a historic and transformative commitment from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation,” stated Bishop Robert McClory of the Diocese of Gary. “On behalf of all families who will benefit from this commitment, we are thankful and filled with great hope for the future. This is an enormous vote of confidence for Catholic education and the value of our individual schools.”  

According to McClory, “This gift creates an opportunity for the Diocese of Gary to fulfill our mission even more vibrantly to support families and enhance our schools to become an extraordinary model of Catholic school education. We are eager to go forward and experience the impact this commitment and collaboration will have on the lives of our students, their families, our teachers, and our communities.” 

The massive investment into Catholic schools in the Diocese of Gary also drew praise from Indiana’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb. “Receiving a great education is the surest long-term way to lift up society one student at a time,” he asserted. “I am so encouraged by this vote of confidence in Indiana education and am beyond thankful for this life changing investment.”

“This remarkable donation from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation will help change the course for communities through the dedication and hard work of Big Shoulders Fund with the Catholic Diocese of Gary and, more broadly, throughout the Region,” Holcomb predicted. 

While the Big Shoulders Fund was initially founded to serve children in the metropolis of Chicago, it expanded to northwest Indiana, which is an extension of the Chicago metropolitan area, five years ago. The Diocese of Gary contains 17 Catholic elementary schools and three Catholic high schools that serve nearly 6,000 students in Lake, LaPorte, Porter and Starke Counties. 

The multimillion-dollar donation to the Big Shoulders Fund is not the only investment in Catholic education unveiled in Northwest Indiana last week. The Diocese of Gary also revealed its plans to set up an independent endowment within the Catholic Foundation for Northwest Indiana, a nonprofit organization that seeks to “assist Catholics who want their gifts to have a lasting impact on their parishes, schools and diocesan ministries.”

The Diocese has set a goal for the endowment, which is expected to be established at the end of this calendar year, to grow to $50 million over the next 15 years. The endowment's identified purpose is to “supplement the compensation of principals, teachers, and staff within the Diocese of Gary Catholic Schools.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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