Jubilee Schools

  • Religion
  • 1999

When he became Catholic bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, says Terry Steib, “I was shocked that our schools were closing. I thought, ‘That’s not the church’s way.’” In 1999 he announced that the slide would be reversed: Seven previously shuttered Catholic schools would be reopened and a new one would be created to serve children in the greatest need—those living in the poor urban neighborhoods of Memphis. They were to be called the Jubilee Schools, in honor of the forthcoming millennium of 2000, a year of mercy for the poor within Catholicism. Two anonymous Protestant donors called and offered $12 million to back the brave plan; from that point on the project was popularly known as the Miracle in Memphis. The diocese had the first school reopened, and 20 children registered, within three weeks. Today more than 1,500 students attend nine Jubilee schools. Tuition is on a sliding scale, and minimal for poor families—thanks to the $60 million Memphis residents and groups like the Poplar and Hyde Family foundations donated to reconstruct and endow the schools, and the fact that operating costs per pupil are held down (to half of what neighboring public schools cost). Fully 90 percent of the children attending Jubilee Schools live below the poverty level, and 81 percent are not Catholic. Yet the Catholic high schools of Memphis ultimately graduate nearly 100 percent of their students.