The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been given a $10 million grant for 15 of its elementary schools in urban neighborhoods of Minneapolis, St. Paul and a handful of inner-ring suburbs.

The money, given in honor of recently retired Archbishop Harry Flynn, is the largest foundation gift in the 157-year history of the archdiocese. The donor, a family foundation, asked to remain anonymous.

The gift was announced Wednesday by Archbishop John Nienstedt at a news conference at Risen Christ School in south Minneapolis, one of the recipient schools.

These schools have been buffeted by "a confluence of changes in neighborhood demographics and income levels," he said, and news of the grant "brings hope to all the students as well as parents and teachers at our inner-city schools."

Ann Singroy has had four children graduate from the K-8 program at Risen Christ and has two more still at the school, including a daughter who will be in first grade in the fall.

"It's going to bring more programs to the school, which means bringing more enlightenment and more enrichment to the students' lives," Singroy said. "This is very good news for the people of color in this neighborhood, for everyone who can't afford to send their kids to higher-priced private schools."

"It's our chance to have a good education plus moral guidance," Singroy said.

The $10 million will be allocated in $1 million payments over 10 years, with the money being split among the 15 schools based on the number of low-income students in each one. Even with the money, the schools still have financial challenges ahead. Their sliding tuition rates are based on family income.

"It's going to help us close the gap, but as wonderful as it is, it's not nearly enough to make up the entire difference," said Helen Dahlman, principal at Risen Christ. The school has an annual fundraising goal of $800,000, which means that "our development effort still has a lot of [fundraising] work do to."

Nienstedt said he hopes the grant becomes "seed money" for further donations by showing that Catholic schools are not an endangered species.

"This gift was made as a way of expressing the donors' confidence in the future of these schools," said the Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, who worked with Flynn in setting up the funding.

Catholic schools nationwide are losing students, with many of the departing families citing economics. According to the National Catholic Education Association, enrollment has dropped from 5.2 million in 1965 to 2.2 million today. The 15 schools that will be getting grant money have lost a combined 500 students in the last five years, Nienstedt said.

"There's not a lot of disposable income in this neighborhood," Dahlman said.

The schools earmarked for the grant are described as "inner city," but five are in first-ring suburbs.

The list could grow in the future. The grant has a "legacy" clause. If certain yet-to-be-determined standards are met, the annual grant will continue and expand to include suburban schools. Those standards will be determined by the recipients of the money, McDonough said.

"The donors aren't trying to hold our feet to the fire," he said. "They just want to make sure that we are accountable. We are going to tell them what we plan do with the money, follow through on what was done and measure the success of the programs."

The job of overseeing the money will fall to Laurie Acker, a former principal who will start work July 1 as the archdiocese's director of urban education.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392


Minneapolis: Ascension, Pope John Paul II, Risen Christ, San Miguel and St. Elizabeth Seton.

St. Paul: St. Agnes, St. Bernard's, St. Francis-St. James United, St. Matthew, St. Peter Claver and Trinity.

First-ring suburbs: St. Raphael's, Crystal; Blessed Trinity, Richfield; Sacred Heart, Robbinsdale, and St. Michael, West St. Paul.