Teen nears goal of raising $400,000 to save Catholic school she attended as a child — By: Catholic News Agency

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

CNA Staff, Jan 5, 2024 / 11:40 am (CNA).

When Catholic high school senior Susan Lutzke found out in December that St. Bede School, which she attended as a child in Ingleside, Illinois, was facing closure due to lack of funds, she immediately got to work to save it. 

“Honestly, I didn’t really think about it that much,” the 17-year-old told CNA Thursday. “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.”

Lutzke set her fundraising goal for the pre-K through eighth grade Catholic school at $400,000 on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

That was the exact amount St. Bede’s co-principals Lynne Struzel and Lynne Saccaro said the school needs to raise by Jan. 26 in an email announcing the school’s financial difficulties.

If the money is not raised by that date, it could face closure, a frequently asked questions page the school emailed to the community said.

As of Jan. 5 — and to the shock of Lutzke — the GoFundMe has raised $319,297.

“It’s pretty crazy. I don’t think I ever really expected it to get where it is,” Lutzke, 17, said. 

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

Tina Lutzke, who works at St. Bede School, told CNA that officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago informed the school about the financial issues in December. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Schools Office told ABC7Chicago 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.

CNA reached out to the St. Bede School’s office for comment but did not hear back.

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 said.

She said “there’s some hope” the tax credit program may be extended by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but the school is not counting on it. 

“It hasn’t happened, so we can’t plan for our operating expenses for next year,” she said. “Because of that, we’re short. So we have to make that up.” 

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. 

The Lutzkes have teamed up with the school in the fundraising effort and are working together under the name “Fund the Falcons: Save St. Bede School.

Tina Lutzke said the archdiocese will meet with school officials Jan. 5 to talk about fundraising updates.

She said the school “meant enough to Susan that she wants to see it be there for future generations.”

“My whole class was like siblings. We were super close, all of us. There were never different groups that were gossiping. We were like a family, and it was fun to come to school every day,” Susan Lutzke said.

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