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Betsy Kneepkens: As we make our last tuition payment, our investment in Catholic education was money well spent

Our first check was delivered in August 1993, and our last tuition payment will be paid appropriately during the 2023 Catholic Schools Week. My husband, my children, and I know that receiving Catholic education has been a privilege. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Many parents desire this sort of formation for their children, but there is not a school in the vicinity. Many parents don’t know the difference Catholic schools would mean for their children and family. Some have outdated perceptions of Catholic school education, so they don’t choose it. With a contemporary relook, perhaps more children would experience this blessed experience. With the aid of technology, rural parishes will have the opportunity to offer affordable Catholic education in the decades to come, which is exciting and revolutionary. 

For the Kneepkens family, this Catholic Schools Week marks the end of a special relationship. Coming up with the money to pay tuition has not always been easy. For some of these years, we had six children in tuition-funded schools. At times it seemed the money wasn’t there. Over and over again, we figured it out. Since my husband and I saw that Catholic school formation was a need and not a want, numerous “wants” went by the wayside in exchange for what we felt was a need. We are so profoundly grateful that we accomplished our promise to each other. I am confident that our investment will pay life dividends. 

I must credit our parochial school for helping us stick to our faith priorities. In the same respect, the stability and structure our family enjoyed had much to do with the community the school provided for us. This unexpected benefit was a priceless one. We knew that having our family values match our children’s daily life in school kept our kids balanced from a young age. The added gift was that our children were surrounded by peers from families that lived and believed as we did. This community has provided lifelong friendships for many of my children and us. This unexpected relationship outcome is so precious that the value cannot be determined. 

Over the years, I have complained about food, gas, entertainment, and car prices. I get frustrated with how wasteful our government is when we pay so many taxes, licensing, and city fees. However, I have never protested paying our tuition bill. As I said, I knew it was a substantial investment, and we were confident that our children would benefit immensely. 

Paying tuition was additionally satisfying when we saw the great lengths the school went to to be stewards of our dollars. The efforts the staff took to respect the sacrifice families were making for the Catholic schools was impressive and affirming. I have countless examples of the work these schools did to keep Catholic education affordable. For instance, at the end of the school year, a staff person went through the students’ lockers, collected leftover supplies like shelves, book covers, markers, and pens, and cleaned them up on her own time. The following year she made them available for the students to cut the cost of school supplies. The school had a used uniform closet to assist families that couldn’t afford uniforms. Worksheets came home on recycled paper, and leftover lunch snacks were put aside for children who didn’t have enough to eat. I could go on and on with the creative acts considered normal operations for these schools, never sacrificing faith and learning in the process. Simply put, this was the order of business living out their Catholic school mission. 

The real heroes and witnesses at Catholic schools are the faculty, staff, and administrators. They are genuinely missionaries, working the mission fields. Although staff is well educated, prepared, and licensed to work in their positions, they make personal and family sacrifices to work in the Catholic school system. Catholic schools cannot operate paying these well-deserved instructors the same they would get paid in the public school near them. Many of these teachers work their whole professional career serving Christ in this way, forgoing significant pay increases and benefits. These missionaries work the vineyard, which means forgoing so much for them and their families. How could we ever complain about paying, knowing what these kind “spiritual servants” did for our sake and the sake of all children in their care. 

Undoubtedly, the staff’s service is for a mission, and that mission is Christ and building up his kingdom. This reality became evident shortly after spending time with the school staff on campus. Teacher conference after teacher conference, I heard beautiful testimony on how they brought my children to Christ in their subject matter, whether in math, English, or any other class. After a few short weeks of classes, I was amazed at how well they got to know my child. 

Since the school was in my neighborhood, I observed the teachers leaving the building in the late evening, and even on a few occasions, I witnessed the principal exiting in the wee hours of the morning. I wish there were some badge of honor or some way to publicly let our communities know the loving service these individuals selflessly give year in and year out. As missionaries, I imagine their service will likely be rewarded with a loving glance from our Creator. Hopefully, the sacrifice they and their families have made for families like ours will be the just reward in heaven, because they will not see equal professional compensation on earth. 

Even more than when my kids went, Catholic schools and support for Catholic schools has never been more important than now because, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “It is a characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Only those who live by faith know what is happening in the world … the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive process going on, because they have lost the vision of the heights from which they fell.” 

Catholic schools have helped my children and so many more see so they can recognize the wounds of our world. Please trust my testimony: “There is no better way to spend your hard-earned money than providing a place, away from home, that reinforces the faith needed for your children to see what is going on in this hurting world.” The role of these school missionaries is immense, so there is never a question of whether we paid too much. 

It seems like it was just yesterday that we wrote that first check in 1993. However, it is funny that my husband and I are celebrating our last tuition payment. Because, simply put, as long as we are able, we are obligated to continue our giving not only for future generations of Catholics but as a sign of respect and appreciation for the missionaries that often go thankless for all the earthly sacrifices they do laboring in the vineyard for our children. 

Thank you, Catholic schools. My family has been blessed. And a very happy Catholic Schools Week. 

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.