School miracle amid COVID-19

Students dress up as their favorite characters from literature for We Love Reading Week in early March.

Like many principals, Ed Sharbaugh was struggling to fill classrooms and pay bills in the midst of a pandemic. Then a miracle happened.

An anonymous couple pledged $100,000 to support his school, Holy Spirit Academy in New Castle, if their donation was matched dollar-for-dollar. The initial response was so strong that the couple increased their gift to $125,000. So far, nearly $80,000 has come in from the community, with more promised.

In a short period of time, the last remaining Catholic school in Lawrence County stands to receive a quarter-million dollars for tuition assistance and operating costs.

“I had been feeling down,” Sharbaugh admitted.  “We had lost significant support from cancelled fundraisers like the parish festival, Night at the Races, an annual dinner and various subsidies. Scholarship offers were lower.”

Now, he says, the phone is ringing and parents are enrolling their children, drawn by the financial assistance and small class sizes that allow the school to offer in-classroom instruction five days a week.

Father Joe McCaffrey, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, is grateful for the positive impact the gift will have on working families.

“There are people who want to support kids getting a good education in Catholic schools,” Father McCaffrey said.

Catholic schools like Holy Spirit Academy set and meet high standards for student achievement. Teachers help develop each student’s unique, God-given gifts and encourage them to serve others.

“As I said when I came here, the community has to want the school,” Father McCaffrey said. “This is their opportunity to respond.”

Sharbaugh, a veteran educator who is entering his second year as principal at Holy Spirit Academy, said students are prepared to learn in school or at home, with many receiving new Chromebook computers.

“We still have challenges, but now I’m enthused, confident and ready to go for the school year,” Sharbaugh said. “Like Father McCaffrey says, you’ve got to have faith.”