Standing Together to Support Catholic Education for Low-Income Students of Color

Photo courtesy of St. Alphonsus School

In spring 2020 the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced the Drexel Mission Schools Initiative to provide critical services to 10 Catholic elementary schools serving low-income families and students of color. Given the communities they serve, these schools have very limited ability to generate revenue from tuition. At the same time, they shoulder the extra costs of providing additional services that are crucial to their students’ success.

“These schools have unique financial needs,” says Dr. Jason Slattery, director of Catholic education for the archdiocese. “The idea behind the initiative is rooted in the Gospel: the imperative to serve the poor among us and stand in solidarity with families.”

Success Depends on Community Support

The initiative is part of the archdiocese’s Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education. It is supported by GHR Foundation, the Aim Higher Foundation, and the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF), but its success will depend on the generosity of the whole community. Named for St. Katharine Drexel, the patron saint of philanthropy and racial justice, the initiative represents an ongoing commitment to shore up underresourced schools and increase equity in education.

Qualifying schools must have a minimum enrollment of 100 students, with 50 percent or more students of color and at least 50 percent who qualify for free or reduced lunches, a standard indicator for low-income households.

Finding New Ways to Close the Achievement Gap

As part of the initiative, each school participates in City Connects, an innovative, data-driven program developed by Boston College with the premise that meeting a child’s needs outside of school improves academic achievement. Each school is assigned a coordinator who helps connect students with community resources.

GHR Foundation helped pilot the program in the Twin Cities seven years ago. “GHR is committed to closing the opportunity gap for students,” says Program Officer Meg Nodzon. “There’s now an enormous amount of data showing this approach works.”

Laurie Acker is the City Connects program manager in Minnesota. “There are hundreds of reasons why students in poverty don’t have the same chance to succeed,” Laurie says. “We try to address all the factors that could get in the way of a child’s ability to learn, including health, family life, and their emotional and social well-being.”

While Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, Laurie is encouraged by the many organizations that want to improve outcomes. “City Connects has about 300 community partners that work with us to provide services kids need.”

The Drexel Mission Schools also have access to targeted professional development opportunities. At Community of Saints Regional Catholic School (COS), teachers receive training so they can balance the needs to meet students where they’re at and teaching them skills to tackle more rigorous concepts. “There’s a tendency to limit students of color by putting them in a bubble that protects them from failing,” explains COS Principal Bridget Kramer. “That shortchanges students. We’re learning new ways to provide richer resources so students can reach their highest potential.”

10 Drexel Mission Schools

  • Ascension Catholic School, Minneapolis
  • Blessed Trinity Catholic School, Richfield
  • Community of Saints Regional Catholic School, West St. Paul
  • Immaculate Conception Catholic School, Columbia Heights
  • Risen Christ Catholic School, Minneapolis
  • St. Alphonsus Catholic School, Brooklyn Center
  • St. Jerome School, Maplewood
  • St. John Paul II Catholic School, Minneapolis
  • St. Pascal Regional Catholic School, St. Paul
  • St. Peter Claver Catholic School, St. Paul

The schools commit to certain standards of excellence and, in exchange, receive a variety of assistance.



  • Increased Access to Scholarships – Additional funds are available to support the higher need for tuition assistance.
  • Focus on Rigorous Academics – School leaders and faculty have access to instructional programs and training designed to help students accelerate academically.
  • City Connects Coordinator – Each school is assigned a coordinator to help assess the needs of each student and work with community partners to secure and deploy resources.

Rallying Around Schools and Students

Jason expresses gratitude for the support the Drexel Mission Schools have received so far. He hopes members of the Catholic community will rally around these schools and their students. “Every child is made in the image of God and is loved by him,” says Jason. “If a person has the means and desire to provide a hand up and out of poverty for children who are underserved, I can hardly think of a better way.”

To ensure the success of the initiative, please consider a gift to the Drexel Mission School Fund. See options for giving at