Pastor Walks for 2 Days — for His Students

Father John Higgins puts on his walking shoes. The priest walked 58 miles from Westchester County, N.Y., to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to raise money for his parish’s struggling school.

It’s not exactly the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish pilgrimage trail featured in the new Emilio Estevez film The Way. But the road from Peekskill, N.Y., to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City can be just as colorful.

Father John Higgins, the 43-year-old pastor of Assumption Parish in the Westchester County town, walked 58 miles to Manhattan Nov. 10-11.

His purpose? To raise money for his struggling parish school.

In a letter to friends, he wrote that Assumption School is having difficult times, and many of the parents, hit hard by the economic downturn of the past several years, are struggling to keep their kids in the school.

Father Higgins traversed the roads of some of the river towns along the Hudson on his way down to Yonkers. He stayed overnight at St. Joseph’s Seminary, where he studied for the priesthood, and celebrated Mass at the cathedral at journey’s end.

His pilgrimage was part of a larger fundraising effort being undertaken by the school’s advisory board. Deemed “105 for 105,” the campaign is trying to raise $105,000 for the 105 years the school has been in existence.

By the time this issue went to press Nov. 22, the effort had raised approximately $40,000.

Father Higgins has been pastor since 2006. The school, he pointed out, has had a history of educating immigrant children — the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and Hungarians — and that tradition certainly continues, as the area is now largely Hispanic and the majority of the almost 220 children are of Ecuadoran descent.

This is not an uncommon situation for Catholic schools, particularly those in large, metropolitan areas and their outlying districts. Nor is it an uncommon story that Catholic schools manage to give kids a superior education with far fewer dollars than their public counterparts.

In a very Catholic atmosphere, to boot. Students attend Mass weekly and confession monthly, and prayers throughout the school day and special devotions are a part of school life. The school prayed a novena to St. Thérèse this year, in view of the financial situation. 

“The cost to run our school last year was $1,327,000, and we’ve been told we run lean,” Father Higgins said. It costs more than $6,100 to educate one child at the school. In-parish tuition is $3,300, which barely covers it.

“Add to that the fact that many of our children live far below the poverty line,” the priest said. “We embraced the mission of helping every family who wants a Catholic education for their child, regardless of their ability to pay.  Financially speaking, that means we have a deficit. And, yet, we still embrace the mission. This year, to be frank, our parish was no longer able to bridge the gaps. We are an inner-city parish, with all that implies.”

Parish and parents strive to make up the gap with fundraising events and a monthly second collection. And the school now has a development director, who reaches out to alumni, business owners and community leaders. And, Father Higgins added, “We apply for grants and for direct scholarships through the New York Archdiocese Inner-City Scholarship Fund and other scholarship-granting organizations.”

Father Higgins’ supporters were able to follow his walk to New York on Twitter @CatholicPeek.

To help the school, visit

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