OLEAN — As a native of Olean and a veteran educator, Dr. Michael LaFever understands the importance of Southern Tier Catholic School in the community as well as a Catholic education.
LaFever recently announced that he is president of the Catholic Children’s Learning Corporation (CCLC), a nonprofit organization, whose mission is to financially help elementary Catholic schools such as Southern Tier Catholic, in eight counties of Western New York.
LaFever said the organization is an independent charity and not affiliated with the Diocese of Buffalo. LaFever said the charity’s founders, “all of whom will serve on the Board of Directors, are individual Catholics dedicated to ensuring children and families who desire a faith-based education will continue to have that opportunity.
“We have regional schools in the Diocese of Buffalo and they’re all like Southern Tier Catholic and (Archbishop Walsh Academy) and they’re struggling,” said LaFever, who recently retired as superintendent of schools in the diocese and previously served as principal/president of St. Benedict School in Amherst.
He also is a former educator from Olean.
“They’re what I call mission schools because there are no other choices for Catholic families or other families (to receive) faith-based education in those counties — they’re the only schools left,” he said of Catholic schools in the area.
In addition to Olean, regional communities that continue to have Catholic mission schools include Dunkirk, Batavia and Wellsville, among a few others. Some schools, such as Olean, host students from other communities, including Bradford, Pa., whose Catholic school, closed at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Several of those children now travel to Olean daily for a Catholic education.
“This goes to show you the commitment of families to have that opportunity,” LaFever added.
He said the organization believes Catholic schools are a critical part of the church’s mission for the evangelization of future generations of Catholics.
“The board also wishes to support non-Catholic families whose children attend Catholic schools,” he noted. “Our members feel strongly that children exposed to the faith, charity and love of others will enrich our community in many ways for the future.”
Catholic schools have financially sustained themselves through tuition and the gifts of others for many years, he added.
“Those gifts previously came through the contributions of Catholic parishes, school fundraisers, donated scholarships and the generosity of individuals who contribute to other charities like the BISON FUND who support these schools,” LaFever explained. “The Diocese of Buffalo’s current bankruptcy has resulted in the withdrawal of financial support of Catholic elementary schools by the diocese.”
Because of this, a number of Catholic schools are now in jeopardy of closing without diocesan support.
“The CCLC believes the diocese, even with its limited resources, must continue to see Catholic schools as a part of the church’s mission and include them in its financial priorities,” LaFever contended.
He said the organization has some ideas to engage businesses and establish partnerships to create needed income and a consistent income stream for the schools. This could include activities in real-estate development, small business operations and intellectual properties.
Currently, the board is in the process of exploring all of these possibilities. Donations and financial contributions made to the organization could also be used as tax write-offs for the donors.
“We have a couple of families that are doing estate planning and are dedicating some of their estates to the foundation already,” he commented. “We’re excited about those types of things.”
Thomas Manko, school president and principal of Southern Tier Catholic and Archbishop Walsh, said he is pleased that LaFever, who is his cousin, is heading up the new organization.
“This is for a very noble cause and that is to fund Catholic elementary education of Western New York,” Manko said. “Nobody is getting any funding (from the diocese) at the elementary level … anything we can get will help.”
Manko said the Olean campus has remained open five days a week and currently has 165 students enrolled, from Montessori classes through 12th grade.
“Matter of fact, we just had a phone call from a family who wanted to know if we’re still open and if we’ll be open through June,” Manko added. “Once the families get here, we’ve had some say, ‘You know what, we’re going to stay here after this school year, because we like what we see.’”
For more information on the CCLC visit www.cclcbuffalo.org online.
Though the organization will not conduct fundraisers, there is a place on its website for anyone interested in donating at https://www.cclcbuffalo.org/donate. All funds go directly to Catholic schools in Western New York.