Father Matthew Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish, announces the good news to the school community on Dec. 3. (CS photos/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Father Matthew Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish, announces the good news to the school community on Dec. 3. (CS photos/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Christmas came early for the students, teachers and parents at Holy Family School in Hillcrest Heights, who on Dec. 3 learned that the school had received an anonymous $200,000 donation, allowing the financially struggling school to remain open for the next school year.

As Father Matthew Fish, the administrator of Holy Family Parish, announced the news to the school community during a morning assembly, teachers hugged each other and wiped tears from their eyes as the students clapped and cheered.

“I felt that it was a miracle on Calloway Street,” said Tamika Evans, whose daughter is in fourth grade at the school.

Addressing the anonymous donor, Father Fish said, “I cannot thank you enough, whoever you are. You saw something in us; something all of us recognize and believe in,” which he went on to say is the Catholic education that the 135 students of the school receive every day.

About six weeks ago, Father Fish met with teachers and parents to give them the difficult news that due to financial challenges, they would have to close the school after this year unless they raised significant funds. Following that meeting, Father Fish said he was moved by how many parents told him how important it was to them to find a way to keep the school open. Now, Father Fish sees the large donation as “a sign of confirmation of that trust we had put in God in this effort.”

“Even when things looked really tough, we knew that God had a plan and if we just did the right thing; if we got the good word out about this school and the amazing things we are doing here, people would see that and the support would come,” said Father Fish.

He said he also sees the donation as “a sign of hope” and “a vote of confidence to say ‘people really do believe in us.’”

“It is a gift that we are going to look back on for years to come – really for I think the rest of the history of the school – to look back at that year when things looked bad and when things even looked dire and just enough people believed in us and gave us that push; that vote of confidence to say, ‘We can do this,’” said Father Fish.

The school’s principal, Michelle Taylor, said when she learned about the gift, she was “completely overwhelmed and overcome with emotion.”

“The future, I feel, is so bright for us and I’m really, really excited about what the future holds and the forthcoming students that we hope to gain from this success that we are having right now,” she said.

In just six weeks, the school was able to raise $35,000 in parent pledges, $10,000 on Giving Tuesday, and $28,000 in mail-in checks and through their GoFundMe page. With those funds, in addition to the $200,000 from the person that Father Fish refers to as their “Angel Donor,” the school has raised $273,000.

“We’ve discovered through this experience just how much this school means for us,” said Father Fish.

The priest said what makes the school special is, “It really is a family.”

“It is funny that that’s our parish name, but that is the experience that people have here,” he said, noting that he greets the students and parents in the morning, and parents often return to participate in school activities, and the teachers work hard, “because they want to be a part of this incredible experience where they can offer what is best for these students and they can direct them in a vision that says that ‘We’re interested in your highest good; in your greatest fulfillment and happiness that isn’t just having to do with this life.’”

Father Fish encouraged the school community not to settle for “good enough,” but instead to try to lay a foundation for future generations at the school.

“We want every pre-K and kindergarten student to know this school will be here when they enter into eighth grade,” said Father Fish.

Given the outpouring of support, Father Fish said he hoped the community could match or even surpass the $200,000 donation, in order to improve classroom buildings, provide more resources for teachers, and create a one-to-one technology program for its students.

The community has the support of fellow Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, who have scheduled tag days and bake sales in upcoming weeks to fundraise for Holy Family. To give just a few examples, St. Pius X Regional School has agreed to donate $500; Holy Redeemer in College Park is taking up a second collection at one of their Masses in addition to a tag day in the school; and St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville is hosting a two-day bake sale, a dress down day, and is donating $1,000 on top of whatever funds those activities raise.

“I think it is very important that the principals of the archdiocese show our support for Holy Family and that Catholic community,” said Glenn Benjamin, the principal of St. Jude. “We are a community of Catholic people, Christian people, and when one of us is in trouble, we need to step up and take care of the others.”

Following the exciting announcement, the first thing the Holy Family School community did was give thanks to God by going to Mass, because “We would not be here today if it weren’t for His grace,” said Father Fish.

“Sometimes it happens in life that you have obstacles,” Father Fish told the students. “You can get discouraged, you can give up, or you can say, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”

For the parents and students currently at Holy Family School, the good news came as a relief. Danielle Lewis, who has two children who graduated from the school and four children still enrolled at Holy Family, said, “it is all my family’s ever known.”

“I know my money is in the right place,” she said. “I know the teachers here care about my babies, and I also know they are challenged. I know when they leave here they are prepared for high school and what comes after high school.”

When she thought the school might close, she said, “My heart was heavy,” and she began to ask herself, “Where else would I send them?”

So when she heard the news on Dec. 3, she said, “It was a relief, a weight off my shoulders…God has blessed us.”

Seventh grade student Logan O’Neal, who started attending the school last year, said, “when I first came here in the sixth grade, it was very welcoming and I just fell in love with it.”

When he heard that the school might have to close, he said he was “heartbroken and devastated, because this school has really helped me and I would hate to see it closed down.”

He is hoping to get accepted into DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, and he said what he learns at Holy Family will help him to do that. So when he heard the news that the school would remain open, he said, “I wanted to cry, but I had to hold it in.”

“I was really happy that someone donated and believed in us kids,” he said.