Something happened in 1997 that still motivates Julie Wolf.
That was the year the elementary school from which she graduated, Mother of Perpetual Help, Milwaukee, closed and merged with St. Stephen, Martyr School. Over the next 10 years, a Catholic school would operate at the MPH site – first Resurrection Catholic School; four years later, Mary, Queen of Martyrs School – but it would never again be MPH school. In 2007, the site became its current incarnation – the East Campus of the four-campus Blessed Savior School.
“I, along with my sisters and others, planned that last, all-class reunion (in 2007, after the third merger). It was one of the hardest things ever because a piece of you is gone when those doors close,” said Wolf, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “That’s one of the reasons I was motivated to do this, because I don’t want that for any other school. I want to make sure kids have an opportunity to go to a Catholic school in their neighborhood, if they so choose.”
For information on the Soles for Catholic Education walk on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Mount Mary University, Milwaukee, visit catholicschoolswalk.org or call (414) 769-3507.
“This” is the first Soles for Catholic Education walk held on All Souls Day, Saturday, Nov. 2, 9:15 a.m., at Mount Mary University. In the planning stages for more than a year, the 2-mile walk has a twofold purpose, according to Wolf.
“We want them to understand that the goals of this event are, number one, to raise awareness about Catholic education through this celebration of Catholic education, and the second one is to help the schools to raise tuition assistance dollars and that all of those dollars stay with that school,” she said.
Awareness through numbers
The awareness is expected to come in the number of participants and the number of schools that will participate. As of Monday, Oct. 7, 5,576 walkers had registered.
“If we have between 4,000 and 7,000 walkers at this event, it will be one of the largest inaugural walks in southeastern Wisconsin,” Wolf said. By comparison, she noted that Al’s Run and Walk, in existence for 36 years, draws around 13,000 participants annually.
With approximately 31,000 students in Catholic schools, and thousands of alumni “we hope to motivate to participate,” she said, the level of participation could be massive.
“The potential is huge,” Wolf said. “It’s a matter of turning them out, and of having a good day (weather-wise).”
Nostalgia for past, opportunity for future
In marketing the walk to alumni, Wolf wants to tap into the “emotional connection, those memories” people have for what was their “school family, a family of faith.”
“We want to remind people of those memories. We want them to recollect the good times that they had. We want them to recollect what they learned and how they took what they learned out into their families and the community,” she said.
The trip through memory lane doesn’t end there.
“We want them to recognize that Catholic education is different today. It’s a struggle because of changing societal values, because of rising costs, the fact that we don’t have the good sisters there teaching for free, working many hours a day to ensure that we have a good education, and that we were formed in the faith, learning right and wrong,” Wolf said, adding that she hopes alumni will recall the benefits of their Catholic education and “think about generations going forward to be able to have access to that same opportunity.”
Raising money for tuition assistance
Since the archdiocesan office of communications assists Catholic schools in marketing themselves, Wolf knows the cost of tuition is a marketing challenge schools face.
“Catholic education is more and more costly. If we were going to be successful in helping them to market, we had to come up with a way to help them address that cost issue,” she said. “So we felt that the walk would not only raise the awareness to the folks in the community about the benefits of Catholic education, but it would also provide a venue for those schools to raise money for tuition assistance.”
Wolf, assisted by Katie Heino, the communications office’s schools marketing coordinator, and Jenny Moyer, a temporary walk coordinator, emphasized the archdiocese is not raising the money.
“The schools are raising the money. It’s very, very important for folks to know that all pledges made to a school stay with that school. One hundred percent of those dollars remain there,” she said, adding that individual schools have set goals for how much money they wish to raise.
“By raising money for tuition assistance,” Wolf said, “Schools can either help to retain the families and students that they have by reducing costs or by recruiting new students and helping with tuition that way.”
Volunteers, donations make it possible
While the schools keep money pledged to them, the cost of organizing and executing the first-time event is in “the low six figures,” according to Wolf. Among the costs are development of a website, a “limited” amount of advertising, and collateral materials needed for promotion.
“Four major sponsors have donated $25,000 each,” she said, adding that other institutions contributed, too.
Volunteers are key to “Soles for Catholic Education,” according to Wolf.
“From the very beginning we’ve been networking and have developed a team of more than 30 volunteers who are all Catholic school grads who have either stepped up financially to support the development of this event and/or who have stepped up to chair various aspects of it,” she said.
While emphasizing the need to raise awareness of and money for Catholic schools, Wolf doesn’t want the celebratory aspect overlooked.
“We want this to be a celebration. I don’t think there is a Catholic school graduate who is not proud of the fact that they graduated from a Catholic school. We hold our heads up high as Catholics if we were able to attend and graduate from a Catholic school,” she said. “Being Catholic, with the challenges we face in the Catholic Church, with the clergy abuse crisis, sometimes people don’t want to say, ‘I’m Catholic,’ but it’s never hard as a Catholic school grad to stand up and be proud of the school you graduated from and want to come back and support it.”