Teen hits major fundraising feat in attempt to save her childhood Catholic school — By: Catholic News Agency

Susan Lutzke, an alumna of St. Bede School, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than one month for her former Catholic institution. / Credit: Tina Lutzke

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 17, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Susan Lutzke may have successfully saved her childhood Catholic elementary school from closing after raising more than $400,000 to address the institution’s financial difficulties.

The principals of St. Bede School in Ingleside, Illinois, announced on Dec. 13, 2023, that if the money wasn’t raised by Jan. 26, the school could face closure. Loving her experience at St. Bede, Lutzke immediately sprung into action.

“Honestly, I didn’t really think about it that much,” she told CNA in a Jan. 5 interview. “We found out the night of Dec. 13, and we were kind of sad about it. And then the next morning I made a GoFundMe in the car in the parking lot at my high school.”

The crowdfunding campaign almost instantly began generating funds, with almost 900 donations ranging from $10 to $50,000.

When Lutzke spoke to CNA earlier this month, the funds were over $300,000. She called the success “pretty crazy.”

“I don’t think I ever really expected it to get where it is,” she added.

“I can’t believe it,” said Tina Lutzke, her mother. “We’re so happy and grateful for the support that it’s received.”

In an updated statement on the GoFundMe, Susan Lutzke wrote on Sunday: “We’re thrilled to announce that we have officially surpassed our initial goal of $400,000 with 12 days left until the deadline.”

“Our hearts are full, and we struggle to find the words to properly convey our gratitude,” she said.

She added that “33 days ago, we were completely overwhelmed with the daunting task of raising such a huge sum of money in such a short period of time, especially over the holidays. However, we were bound and determined to give it our all.”

The statement said that the school administration is “hard at work on a plan for [the] future” to demonstrate “long-term sustainability” and promising enrollment, which will be presented to Chicago archbishop Cardinal Blase Cupich. 

“All of this will be factored into the cardinal’s February decision of whether or not we remain open,” the statement said.

CNA reached out to the archdiocese for comment but did not immediately receive a response. Susan Lutzke was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Schools Office told ABC7Chicago earlier this month that decreased funding from the state has made it challenging for some Catholic schools to stay open.

“When Illinois lawmakers decided to end the Invest in Kids scholarship program, they jeopardized many schools throughout the state, including St. Bede. These schools must now try to replace those scholarship funds, which will be difficult,” the archdiocese said.

The Invest in Kids Act is an Illinois law that allows income tax credits for taxpayers who donate to a scholarship granting organization. Scholarship granting organizations then offer scholarships for students who attend “qualified” private schools.

“The Invest in Kids Act was a huge help to us with scholarships for those who couldn’t quite afford a Catholic education. And that program expired at the end of 2023 last month, and it has not been renewed yet,” Tina Lutzke, who works at St. Bede School, told CNA earlier this month.

Susan Lutzke said her experience at St. Bede was “really positive.”

“It’s a smaller school, so the classes are always super close together. And I’m still in contact with the people I was classmates with. It was really just a big family and it was a really great experience for me,” she said.

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