Msgr. James Gilg offers an opening prayer at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Archbishop’s Committee for Development. Jill Petersen, convening chair of the ACD and emcee of the event, stands behind him. CASIE SCHLUETER

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50 years later, the Archbishop’s Committee for Development remains dedicated to its mission

In the late 1960s, Catholic schools around the country were closing at an alarming rate. Time magazine reported in March of 1969 that “the Roman Catholic school system in the U.S. is in serious, even desperate financial trouble.”

While public and Catholic schools alike were confronted with mounting expenses, Catholic schools were particularly hard hit due in large part to the thinning ranks of dedicated religious order sisters and brothers who taught and worked in Catholic schools for little pay.

The Archdiocese of Omaha was not immune to this trend, but it had something other dioceses lacked. An energetic Irish priest and a handful of local Catholic business professionals determined that Catholic schools in the archdiocese would do more than survive these turbulent times – they would thrive!

In 1972, Father John Flynn, then-director of education for the archdiocese, and 14 professionals came together to form what today is known as the Archbishop’s Committee for Development (ACD). Last month, the ACD celebrated its 50th anniversary with past and present members gathering to commemorate this important milestone and honor the late Father John Flynn and its founding members.

Six archdiocesan elementary schools closed in Father Flynn’s first year as director. In an effort to raise money to support struggling Catholic schools in northeast Nebraska, the ACD was founded. It was hoped that the ACD could help alleviate rising costs and ensure that archdiocesan Catholic schools would remain sustainable. A lofty goal in light of the educational climate at the time.

Early on, ACD members came up with the idea to encourage schools to establish their own endowments. Distributions from each school’s endowment would then be used to help support that school. With the encouragement and guidance of ACD members, several schools established endowments, which are held in the Catholic Futures Foundation of Northeast Nebraska. Today, the CFF has assets of $38 million.

In the past 50 years, the CFF has distributed nearly $30 million to schools, parishes and Catholic ministries throughout northeast Nebraska.

The ACD was so successful at encouraging schools to establish endowments that Catholic dioceses around the nation sought their expertise.

Today, the ACD has more than 185 member households across northeast Nebraska. Although its mission has expanded over the years, it remains committed to keeping Catholic schools open and accessible to families who desire a Catholic education for their children. The Catholic faith remains at the heart of everything it does.

“It (being an ACD member) keeps you surrounded with people with faith,” said Harry Knobbe of St. Mary Parish in West Point, who joined the ACD in 1980. “The ACD has made my faith better.”

Mickey and Krista Anderson of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha have been ACD members since 2011. They have six children, three of whom attend St. Margaret Mary School and three at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha. Mickey Anderson believes the work of the ACD is critical to ensuring the Catholic Church can continue its good work in northeast Nebraska. That work includes keeping its schools strong so they can pass the faith onto the next generation.

“The idea that our children would learn to live God’s word and do God’s work, at the end of the day, is the most important thing,” Anderson said. “We know that message is reinforced in our Catholic schools.”

The ACD was initially called the Archbishop’s Committee for Educational Development (ACED) because it provided support and counsel to Archbishop Daniel Sheehan on issues impacting Catholic schools. In 2001, under Archbishop Elden Curtiss, the ACED was renamed the ACD since it had expanded to support archdiocesan parishes and ministries.

“Over the years, the mission of the ACD has been expanded, but there’s still a primary focus on the good work of our Catholic schools,” Archbishop George Lucas said.

The effects continue to be felt today in the 53 elementary and 17 high schools that serve approximately 20,000 students throughout the archdiocese.

Katie Zimmerman and her husband, Rob, are current ACD members. When Katie was growing up, she heard a lot about the need for endowments for parishes and schools in the archdiocese from her parents, Tom and Anne Pogge. The Pogges have been members of the ACD for more than a quarter of a century.

Archbishop’s Committee for Development members Rob and Katie Zimmerman with Archbishop George Lucas. CASIE SCHLUETER

“As a high schooler, that was most likely met with a bit of an eye roll and ‘here we go again with the endowments and raising money for our Catholic schools,’” Zimmerman said. “In reality, we are grateful for the generosity and foresight of all those who came before us and helped to create a viable path forward for our Catholic schools. Those dreams of development and endowments are now making a tremendous difference in the lives of so many.”

The Zimmermans have three children at St. Vincent de Paul School in Omaha and two at Mount Michael Benedictine School in Elkhorn. And Katie, who once rolled her eyes at talk about “raising money for our Catholic schools,” is carrying on her parents’ legacy and zeal for Catholic education.

“We (the ACD) will fuel the growth of our Catholic schools and values-based education in Omaha,” Zimmerman said. “We will not be content with maintenance. We are on a mission.”