The 77th Founders Day provided St. Mary’s Catholic School with a great opportunity for burning the mortgage.
A debt of $1.9 million might seem impossible to pay, especially for a small school. But on Wednesday, past and present friends of St. Mary’s joined together with students and their parents for a double celebration, marking the school’s 77th Founders Day and its newly debt-free status.
Beginning with a Mass led by the fourth-grade students, the crowd then gathered around the breezeway of the school for a note-burning ceremony to commemorate the school’s payment in full of the mortgage on the school building.
Following a prayer of thanksgiving given by Father Rafa Carballo, there were shouts, cheers and confetti as the mortgage went up in smoke.
The journey began in September 2001, just two days before the Sept. 11 attacks. A group of dedicated parents, parishioners and friends of St. Mary’s set out on a capital campaign to raise money to build a new school building, at a total cost of $4.2 million. When the new building was completed and dedicated in 2002, there was a remainder of $1.9 million to be paid off, in the form of a loan from the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
For several years, the school was only able to pay the annual interest, with small payments made on the principal. But over the past six years, the school administration team has worked hard to find creative ways to direct every available dollar to debt-reduction.
An energy audit resulted in lower electric bills and also a lowered carbon footprint, benefiting both the school and the environment. The school applied for grants, and the receipt of those allowed more money to be directed toward paying the loan. Bequests from friends of the school helped to further bring down the total debt.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta recognized the huge effort that was being made by the school and responded with generosity. In January of 2020, Bishop Joel Konzen awarded the school a matching grant in honor of the late Father James Miceli, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church during the construction of the school in 2002.
This grant matched each one of St. Mary’s payments, dollar for dollar, starting with fiscal year 2018. Then, over the summer of 2022, the archdiocese provided a final matching grant to pay off the remaining debt. St. Mary’s School entered this current school year debt free.
Many special guests from the archdiocese were on hand Wednesday as the school celebrated.
“God has richly blessed St. Mary’s Catholic School,” said Principal Jennifer Rittgers. “Since 1945, the lives of thousands of students and their families, our church and the entire community have been enriched because of the presence of St. Mary’s School. Today is a day of gratitude toward those who worked to establish a Catholic school in Rome, and for each person who has had a part in making our dream a reality.”
As old and new friends lingered after Mass on Wednesday to visit over cake and coffee, the smiles on the faces of the crowd echoed her words.