Archbishop Kurtz praised for supporting Catholic education


Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz greeted educators after a special Back-to-School Mass for Catholic school teachers Aug. 12, 2021, at St. Gabriel’s Church. (Recording photo by Ruby Thomas)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s leadership over the past 15 years has made Catholic schools more accessible to families and provided support for schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, local officials said.

“What I’ve seen is real integration into school life,” said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools. “If someone reaches out and says, ‘Archbishop, do you want to come?’ He is always responsive.

“Not just for the sacraments – it could be a sporting event, it could be a visit to a classroom – he was available. It was huge because her schedule is full,” she noted.

“All you had to do was make an invite. I know it wasn’t always easy, but he always had a smile on his face. I think it’s something people will always remember and appreciate.

Archbishop Kurtz will retire from the leadership of the Archdiocese of Louisville on March 30 when his successor, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre is installed as Archbishop of Louisville. Since the announcement of the appointment on February 8, Bishop Kurtz has served as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

He became Archbishop of Louisville in 2007, at a time when the Catholic Education Foundation had provided tuition assistance to less than 1,000 students since the awards began in 1999.

“We didn’t reach 1,000 children until 2012,” said Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation. He came on board in 2014 as Archbishop Kurtz was crafting what Lechleiter calls a game-changer for students in Catholic schools: the Catholic Elementary School Plan.

The plan, announced in November 2014, called on parishes and pastors to work together on Catholic education. The plan’s greatest impact on tuition assistance comes from a contribution from each parish to a tuition assistance fund.

“It doubled the income we had for tuition assistance,” Lechleiter said. “The impact this has had has been enormous. … He took off like a rocket after that. The impact after this ruling added significant resources to families struggling to afford Catholic school tuition.

In the 2014-2015 school year, prior to the implementation of the plan, the CEF provided need-based tuition assistance to 1,476 students.

In 2016, CEF was able to help 2,650 students attend Catholic schools and distributed $5.8 million in need-based aid.

By the 2018-19 school year, the foundation had distributed $6.4 million in aid to 3,100 students.

This school year, the 2021-2022 term, 3,400 students have received total assistance of $7 million.

Lechleiter credits the steady increase to the elementary school plan, including support from pastors and parishioners. He also credits the support of the community when they see the Archbishop, other leaders and the foundation working together for the good of families.

“He’s done a lot of great work in 15 years. What he did for Catholic education is one of his best, if not his best. His legacy over time, I believe you will look back and see that our best days for Catholic education are ahead of us and he laid the groundwork,” Lechleiter added. “He has been a blessing to me personally and to this diocese for sure.”

For Superintendent Bowling, the elementary school plan “has been a critical pivot for us in including students we may not have served before.”

Bowling had just been hired as assistant superintendent when the plan was announced. Before that, she had been a primary school principal.

“It had an impact on the number of students we served. He helped support Catholic education in this way,” she said.

Beyond finances, however, she added, “his investment was in the life of the schools, all the things he made so meaningful by his presence.”

“People appreciate that presence,” she said. “He always supports our teachers and professors. His homilies always have a story you can hang on to that resonates with our students. He’s a born teacher – he can connect with any age group.

Bishop Kurtz has also helped schools keep their Catholic identity front and center, she said.

“He would make you go back and think about how deliberate you are about Catholic identity,” she added. “Here too, he always makes you think, how are you growing in your faith?”

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