As president of a Catholic school system – ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and from all-boy to all-girl to co-ed – Father Scott Jabo has shaped the educational and spiritual growth of thousands of young people. And now he is helping to advance an innovative scholarship program that aims to sustain Erie’s well-regarded Catholic schools for many decades ahead.
Father Jabo is president of Cathedral Preparatory School and Villa Maria Academy, two venerable Catholic high schools – established in 1921 and 1892, respectively – as well as Mother Teresa Academy, a recently launched K–8 school. The three schools are located in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is part of the vast thirteen-county Diocese of Erie located in the northwest corner of the state. The schools have a combined enrollment of over 1,000 students, and Father Jabo looks after the interests of students and the broader school community as he faces the complex challenge of leading high-quality, faith-guided educational institutions in a modern age.
Guided by his faith, Father Jabo is upbeat about facing these challenges even as he admits that he never envisioned serving in an educational role, let alone as a top leader. After his ordination in 1990, he was assigned to a Titusville, PA parish church, fulfilling what was the diocese’s most pressing need at the time. He had every expectation of remaining a parish priest, but when a new bishop was appointed to the diocese, Father Jabo was assigned to serve at a (now closed) high school in the region. He quickly demonstrated both a talent and passion for this work and went on to earn a master’s degree in education administration from Duquesne University.
In 1999, he was appointed as assistant headmaster of Cathedral Prep and, a year later, as headmaster. Cathedral Prep was legally merged with Villa Academy in 2010, but the two schools have retained their traditional all-boy and all-girl structures even as curricula were aligned and staff positions combined to achieve consistency and efficiency. Father Jabo and other diocesan leaders understood that even respected institutions like Cathedral Prep and Villa were facing severe headwinds as parochial-school enrollment continued to decline nationally. They needed to address two related challenges: cultivating a steady group of students applying to the twin schools in the coming years, and ensuring that parents could continue to afford this quality education.
The diocese responded to the first challenge by creating Mother Teresa Academy, a K–8 “mission school” aimed at providing a high-quality education to the children of Erie, a city of about 100,000 that fronts the Great Lake that shares its name. The new school, which opened in 2018, is located in one of the most economically challenged neighborhoods of the city, where median household income is about 40% lower than the U.S. average ($36,000 vs. $59,000). The school is guided by both the Pennsylvania Common Core State Standards and by the Diocesan Standards for Religion, ensuring that students can grow both academically and spiritually.
Father Jabo and diocesan leaders met the second challenge by repositioning an existing 501(c)(3) foundation to create a new endowment, which generous donors have already built to more than $12 million through cash gifts or inclusion in their estate plan. The school has a vision of increasing the endowment’s value to $30 million, which it believes will provide firm financial footing for the three schools far into the future. Successful fundraising campaigns, such as a November drive that includes a donation-matching feature, will contribute toward achieving this ambitious goal.
The endowment is already demonstrating its power by supporting a new scholarship program that aims to create a financial bridge for local parents who hope to give their children a high school education at Cathedral Prep and Villa. The Catholic Elementary Scholarship Program (CESP), announced in January, will provide eligible graduates of any Catholic elementary school in the Diocese with a $3,000 scholarship to attend Cathedral Prep or Villa. This scholarship can be renewed for four years (for a total value of $12,000), which would lower the cost of either high school’s current tuition from $10,195 to $7,195. The scholarship aims to ensure that tuition costs are less of a barrier for parents who want their children to experience a seamless K–12 Catholic school experience.
This game-changing scholarship program, along with other key programs, will test the durability of the endowment over the long term. This is why Father Jabo and diocesan leaders are intent on investing the endowment’s funds with an eye toward generating appealing returns. At the same time, as Catholic investors, they must ensure that companies invested in are morally and socially responsible. In the past, Father Jabo and diocesan leaders relied mainly on their own scrutiny of specific investment options to gauge alignment with Catholic teachings. Recently, however, they sought out the services of a professional investment management firm that creates customized portfolios that seek above market returns while also aligning with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines.
Father Jabo’s journey to become an education leader has taken surprising turns, and the challenges facing the three schools remain significant. But, as a new decade begins, the Diocese of Erie is looking forward – and is poised to provide a well-funded, seamless, faith-based school experience for untold generations.