In a few more years pre-schoolers at Our Lady Queen of Mercy (OLQM), may move up to the big school. And it's possible they'll go there without paying one penny for tuition. "It's kind of a mutual plan where people who are members of our church will have that opportunity to have their children educated in our parish school for free basically," says Father James Dean, OLQM pastor.
Father Dean says enrollment at the school has dropped 40 percent over the last five years. The number of people coming to church has fallen as well. For families to get the free tuition, they must first send all of their school age children to OLQM for a year. The families must also join the parish and worship here every Sunday.
Father Dean explains, "the way attendance is going to be taken is we have tithing envelopes like most churches do, and they will drop the envelopes in the collection each week. It doesn't have to be anything in it, but it will be their attendance you know and it will be taken. And if they're out of town, they'll go to the Catholic church wherever they're at and send the bulletin in, so there will be some accountability there. And if they're sick or something like that, they'll of course just let us know that."
Parents at St. Bede's Catholic School say they like the moderate tuition and the religious education their kids are getting. Is it possible Father Dean's plan will attract non-Catholics or families from other parishes? He says he has the diocese's blessing; and he'd be happy if new families are brought into Catholicism.
The free tuition program begins with the school year that starts in August of 2004; but families have to join the church this August. To contact the parish call (334) 288-2850. Tuition at the school for non-parish members is $4,170 for one child. $7,005 for two children.