Wednesday, May 09, 2007

St. Agnes saved, with gifts large and small

~from Pioneer Press: 69-year-old St. Paul school raises $3.3 million to stay open

When the school was facing shutdown three weeks ago, the Rev. John Ubel thought it would take an angel to save St. Agnes High.

As it turned out, "we actually needed a couple of archangels," the parish pastor told a crowd gathered Tuesday at the school.

Gifts of $1 million and $1.6 million from two anonymous donors, combined with $750,000 raised by the school and 67 newly enrolled students, will allow the 69-year-old Frogtown institution to remain open next year and beyond, Ubel told an afternoon assembly.

On hearing the news, students, staff and parents in the school's gym erupted with a standing ovation, screams and high-fives, finally able to release the tension that started building April 20 when families received a letter saying lagging enrollment and long-term debt might force St. Agnes High School to close after this school year.

"I thought it was impossible, but it's not," said senior Joe Turner after the announcement.

"You could tell some of the people were worried," said sophomore Megan McCabe. "I'm just so excited I can finish my schooling here."

Ubel said the school was hoping to raise $1.5 million but wound up more than doubling that.

An anonymous couple who had earlier put up a $500,000 matching grant pledged another $500,000 after a dinner conversation with school officials Monday, Ubel said.

A separate gift of more than $1.56 million from an anonymous family will be used to create an endowment.

The school itself raised $750,000 from hundreds of alumni and friends, including more than $100,000 from a special benefit performance of the spring musical, "Beauty and the Beast."

"You'd better start thinking about a play for next year, Mr. Johnson," Ubel told David Johnson, a second-grade teacher at St. Agnes and the play's director. The multigrade, large-scale musical is a cherished annual tradition at the K-12 school, regarded as the most traditional Catholic school in the metro area.

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