The Milwaukee Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women is working to make Catholic high school education more accessible to female eighth-grade graduates through their annual John and Kathleen Schneider Family Foundation scholarship.

Avery Exley

This year’s scholarship was awarded to three young women. Margaret Weiner, Avery Exley and Andrea Cardenas will each receive $1,000 to put toward their Catholic high school education this fall.

Each applicant was required to write a 500-word essay on the importance of Catholic education in their lives. For Cardenas, 14, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the essay was an opportunity to share the differences she found transitioning to Notre Dame School of Milwaukee from public school during fifth grade.

“I think of faith as a fundamental gift that guides me in every choice I make,” she wrote. “Faith is as important as the air I breathe. It is necessary to be able to practice it in everything I do so that Christ is not only in my heart, but also in my actions.”

Cardenas told the Catholic Herald that, at her old school, God was a taboo subject. “But at Notre Dame, it was something that was celebrated.”

“A Catholic education means letting my gift of faith shine. It means a city on a hill. A lamp on a stand,” she wrote in her essay.

Exley, 14, also came to her current school, Christ King in Wauwatosa, from a public-school background. In her essay, she compared and contrasted the two experiences.

“My experiences (at the public school) were fine,” she wrote. “Nothing extraordinary, nothing horrible. I got a good education, and learned the basics of math, science and reading. Growing up, I was always looked at a little differently. I had a stroke before I was born and it affected my right side. Sometimes I do things differently or move differently, and people often notice. I try not to let it hold me back, but I experienced a lot of tough times with other kids who would treat me differently or make fun of me physically or emotionally. I know this still can happen at a Catholic school, but it’s not as common or the same as what I dealt with in public school. Looking back, I can see what was missing in the public school: the belief in God. To me, it is so important to have a religious aspect as part of your learning.”

Exley told the Catholic Herald that she plans to attend Pius XI High School in the fall and is especially excited to go to a school that draws students from so many different parts of the archdiocese.

Weiner has been attending Christ King since kindergarten, and wrote in her essay that Catholic school has become “part of my identity.” She wrote that she loves being able to learn all of her academic subjects through a Catholic viewpoint.

“I believe that is fundamentally important to grow and evolve into a great practicing Catholic,” she said. “I know I will always go to church regularly; however, I still desire to take my education religiously to the next level. I believe continuing my Catholic education is how I can do this. Ever since I was little, it was my dream to go to a Catholic high school, and now that I am older I hope to someday go to a Catholic college.”

Weiner plans to attend DSHA in the fall, where she hopes to become involved in forensics, theater, choir and volleyball.

All three recipients said that the scholarship money will go a long way to making their Catholic high school education more financially obtainable for their families. “I really want to go to DSHA but our income has been a challenge,” said Cardenas. “This scholarship means a lot to me because it’s making it possible for me to attend DSHA.”

The scholarships have been awarded by the MACCW for the past seven or eight years, said Beatrice Sikorski, the group’s scholarship chair.

“Many of our members were educated in Catholic schools and know how expensive it can be for families to afford,” she said. “At the time we chose to go elementary going on to high school, as there is a larger amount of scholarship availability for high school to college education.”

The MACCW does not award the scholarship based on financial need, however, stressed Sikorski. In fact, the membership is not involved in judging the essays — that honor goes to Mary Jo McCormick and Julie Schlabach, family members of the scholarship’s founders.

“We as members of the MACCW hope to support young women who are actively participating in their schools and parishes and perhaps community activity,” said Sikorski. “We look to them as the future of our longstanding organization.”

The MACCW is currently planning to host their 100th annual convention this fall at St. James Parish in Mukwonago on Saturday, Sept. 12.