Nativity School of Worcester, an all-boys Jesuit middle school educating Black and brown students in central Massachusetts, has revealed a $20M fundraising campaign to establish, among other initiatives, the only tuition-free girls’ school in the region.
The news came earlier this month and coincided with the school’s 20th anniversary gala, which saw more than $500,000 in contributions and the announcement of a $3M gift from the J.D. Power Family and Kenrose Kitchen Table Foundation.
“Thanks to the Power Family’s amazing lead gift, and the support of many others who believe in the power of education, we are one step closer to enabling girls to have access to an excellent Nativity Worcester education,” said school president Tom McKenney.
“We believe that empowering young women will not only ensure these students reach their full potential but enhance our school and positively impact the border community and society.”
The campaign was quietly launched last fall, just months after Nativity was forbidden by the local ordinary, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, to identify itself as Catholic. At issue was the school’s decision to prominently fly Black Lives Matter and Pride flags, an idea from the students that was supported by administrators even after the bishop demanded the emblems be taken down.
As part of McManus’ decree stripping the school of its longstanding Church affiliation, Nativity could no longer celebrate or be sponsored to celebrate the sacraments in the Diocese of Worcester—though the school maintained its Jesuit identity, employees, and board members.
This fall, the diocese released controversial new guidelines forbidding students to publicly identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, noting that “Catholic schools must remain in the fullness of the truth in order to carry out their proper mission.”
The now-independent Nativity, which has flown its BLM and Pride flags since early 2021, has defended them as a mark of acceptance within its school and the local community.
“As a multicultural school, [we believe] the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people,” McKenney wrote last year in a statement defending the flags and the students.
Despite losing a number of major donors in the months after McManus’ decree was publicized, the school reported more than $100,000 in new donations during the same period, apparently backing their resistance to the bishop’s demands.
Since the soft launch of the official campaign last October, the school has raised another $14M in gifts and pledges, having now reached more than 70% of its total goal.
According to Nativity’s campaign webpage, the full impact of the fundraising will include, in addition to a girls’ division, the construction of new classrooms, additional scholarship opportunities, as well as operations and endowment support for the existing boys’ school. The school presently educates roughly 60 students, some two-thirds of whom are Black or biracial; virtually all of Nativity’s graduates go on to complete high school, and most enter college as first-generation students.
“Donors have consistently pointed to the success of the school over the past 20 years as the motivating factor behind their commitment to help us strengthen Nativity’s offerings and most importantly to provide the same opportunities for young women in Worcester,” said campaign committee co-chair Chris Collins.
“We are so grateful that both boys and girls from Worcester will now join in the Nativity Worcester promise to educate the whole person.”
As the school continued to see marked success in view of expanded offerings, the fate of its canonical identity is unclear. Last fall, the Nativity administration announced that it would appeal Bishop McManus’ decree, but no further action has been announced.
Nativity has not included mention of the decree in its new campaign, but official documents for the fundraiser underscore the school’s mission to provide, among other things, “an inclusive education.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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