Rewriting Their Futures

By Eileen Connelly, OSU  
Catholic Telegraph Magazine

Combine a mother’s love, faith and commitment to her children’s future with generous donors who support the Catholic Inner-city Schools Education’s (CISE) mission, which helps rewrite urban children’s lives by providing access to a strong Catholic education. The result instilled in Ebony Webb’s five children the confidence that they can become the best they can be, academically and spiritually.c“I was a teenage mom, age 15, when I had my daughter, Destiny,” she explained. “I was so young and scared, but knew I wanted something better for her. As she got close to school age, I knew Catholic education would help her and help me.” 

“My faith has always been my foundation,” said Ebony, who was raised Baptist. “Generations of our family attended the same church and my mother, Carla, raised me to have a powerful belief in God. He has always come first. I wanted my kids to have that, too. My mom couldn’t afford to send me to Catholic school, so when I learned about CISE from the secretary at St. Francis de Sales, it gave me hope.” Ebony’s five children are all former or current students of St. Francis de Sales elementary school, but CISE also assists through high school at designated schools. 

Now 27, her daughter Destiny graduated from Purcell Marian High School, currently works as a chef, and has two children of her own, including a young daughter following in her mother’s footsteps at St. Francis de Sales. 

“The staff there is amazing. They have become like family over the years,” Ebony said. And they respected her children as individuals, instilled enduring values and helped set them up for success.  Her son, Benjamin Ferguson, showed signs of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was in third grade. “The school recommended having him tested,” she said. “I was reluctant, not wanting to have that stigma, but went ahead. It gave me so much trust in the teachers, and he wouldn’t have gotten that help anywhere else.” 

Benjamin graduated from St. Xavier High School in 2019 and received an athletic scholarship to Fordham University, where he played football. Recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business/marketing, he is now pursuing a master’s degree.

Ebony’s daughters, Aissatou “Aissa” and Jariatou “JaJa” Bah, were next to attend St. Francis de Sales. Aissa graduated with honors from Saint Ursula Academy in May and is bound for Tuskegee University on a full academic scholarship. JaJa is entering her junior year at Saint Ursula. 

Ebony is especially thankful for the way the St. Francis de Sales community rallied around her family when JaJa was born with Spina Bifida. “That was a very hard time for our family,” Ebony recalled. “We thought she would never walk. The people at St. Francis de Sales made meals for us and JaJa was on the prayer list at church. When it was time for school, they really worked with us on what JaJa was able to do and not do. Their prayers and support helped heal JaJa. She’s 16 now and runs and walks.” 

Both young women firmly believe that their Catholic education laid the foundation for academic success and for their desire to be of service to others. Aissa was inspired by a St. Francis de Sales’ teacher whose motto was: “What can I do? How can I help?” 

“That really stuck with me,” she said. “It just really ingrained in me that if you see someone struggling, you should assist them. It helped me become the person I am. I think that’s what Catholic education does for a person. It fosters in a person a call to serve and a willingness to give back. My mother taught us that, too.” 

That spirit of service is evident in Aissa’s variety of activities at Saint Ursula, where she received the 2023 Mother Gertrude Creamer Award for her initiative and Christian service. This included serving as a leader in the Bulldog Buddies tutoring program, as co-president of Hands Across Campus (HAC) and as a member of Sisters in Cultural Unity. 

“I’m just so grateful for the support I’ve received and opportunities I’ve had,” JaJa said. “My education has also helped develop my faith, my relationship with God, how I pray, how I think about things, what I choose to read, how I deal with life and treat other people. I always think, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Diagnosed with diabetes in 2021, JaJa acknowledges that health concerns sometimes presented a challenge, but her faith has seen her through. She hasn’t let such struggles slow her down—JaJa serves as a Bulldog Buddies ambassador, member of Saint Ursula’s Brave Ones Program and co-president of HAC. Both Aissa and JaJa have also been involved in their community as teen staff members with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and with the Youth Antiracist Leadership Academy Program, which helps young people better understand themselves and the world around them by exploring who they are and how they lead. 

Their younger sister, Housanatou, is following in her siblings’ path. She will graduate from St. Francis de Sales in 2026, completing the family tradition of a CISE education.

Ebony emphasized that she has always strived to teach her children to believe in God and in themselves—that they are inwardly and outwardly beautiful, strong and capable of doing hard things.

“I hope CISE donors know how grateful I am for the impact they have made in my children’s lives,” she said. “They made an investment in my children’s future, and I want them to know that my children will carry that investment forward and make a difference in the lives of other people and make the world a better place, each in their own unique way.” 

Aissa and JaJa also expressed their thanks to CISE. “I don’t think ‘Thank you’ even covers the blessing CISE has been to us,” Aissa said. “I don’t know if donors know the impact their generosity has had.” 

“Ebony represents a group of parents that CISE is proud to partner with as we travel the journey of educating students together,” said Dr. Cate O’Brien, Director of School Programs for CISE. “Our parents want a rigorous, disciplined and faith-based environment for their children. Catholic education is a choice and best chosen by parents like Ebony, who supported her children and their teachers, and the spiritual and academic growth of her children both inside and outside the classroom.” 

Tom Haber Retires

Congratulations to Tom Haber, who officially retired from CISE on June 30, 2023. With an extensive background of providing financial expertise to Catholic schools, Tom served CISE very well for the last four years. We wish Tom well in his retirement!

Welcome Sean O’Brien

We welcome Sean O’Brien, who joins CISE as Staff Accountant for Management of School Funds and Partnerships.  “I am excited to join CISE after having served as the business manager at a CISE school where I closely worked with the CISE team. My experience at the school enabled me to have a front row seat to see what the kids and the school’s needs are, and exactly how the donors’ contributions benefit – to truly rewrite a child’s future. This on-the-ground experience was eye opening on a multitude of levels, but most specifically just how uniquely important the CISE mission is. I look forward to using my financial background to be part of the team that executes the amazing generosity provided by our CISE donors.” – Sean O’Brien

The Newest CISE Supported School

CISE welcomes Romero Academy at Annunciation School in Clifton. Annunciation will open in mid-August. The grade school will start by offering PK through 5th grade, and will grow one grade each year until being a K-8 Catholic school by 2026. 

Ms. Kellie Pairan is the Principal of Annunciation School. Prior to Romero Academy, Kellie was a teacher in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati from 2014-2022, teaching one year of fourth grade English and seven years as a first grade teacher. Kellie attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio for her Bachelor’s Degree, her Master’s degree, and her School Administration Certificate. When Kellie is not in the classroom, she can be found reading, watching the Cincinnati Reds bring home a win, and spending time with her family.

CISE Quarterly Newsletter – Message from Phil McHugh

Welcome to the third edition of CISE Quarterly Newsletter.

As many of you are aware, St. Joseph’s school will close for the 2023-2024 school year. While we respect the decision of the parish council and pastor of St. Joseph’s along with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we are saddened by this decision. Our efforts have been focused on providing whatever assistance CISE can to transition the students and teachers to another Catholic school. I am happy to report that great progress has been made in this regard for both the students and the teachers. We will continue to track these students and provide the resources needed.

Good News – The state of Ohio recently increased the Ohio EdChoice vouchers beginning July 1, 2023. The EdChoice Scholarship amount is now $6,165 for grades K-8 and $8,407 for grades 9-12. EdChoice will pay either the scholarship amount or the private school’s actual tuition amount, whichever is less.

Beginning this fall, we will have the largest number of CISE elementary students enrolled in a local, Catholic high school. We expect an enrollment of 148 students. Many thanks to our local, Catholic high schools for their partnership!

Finally, as we prepare for our 2023 campaign, I am grateful to Liz Niehaus and Don Mellott who have agreed to serve as Co-Chairs of this campaign. Both Liz and Don have been terrific supporters of CISE, and we look forward to working with them. Please watch your mail in mid-August for our campaign letter and the 2023 Annual Report.

In gratitude,

Philip R. McHugh
President & Executive Director

CISE Schools Welcome Two New Principals

Meet Kim Childs
Principal of St. Boniface School

I have been married to my husband since 2001, and we have four amazing children. In my hours outside of school, I love to be with friends and family. I spend an enormous amount of time volunteering in my home parish’s athletic association, which I have done since 1992, coaching more teams than I can count.

I’m thrilled about the opportunity to continue serving our incredible school community in this new leadership role and working hard to ensure that St. Boniface continues to make a world of difference.

Meet Jack Corey
Principal of St. William School 

I am very pleased to have been appointed the next principal of St. William School. Since 1999, I have served as a school administrator in both Catholic and public schools, in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Prior to my most recent experience as an administrator in Cincinnati Public Schools, I spent 10 years as the principal of St. Antoninus School.

After graduating high school, I left Cincinnati to enlist in the Army, spending most of my time in Neckarsulm, Germany. After my honorable discharge from the Army, I attended Boston College and graduated with a degree in English.

My career in education began in Houston, TX where I met my wife, Mary Beth. We then moved to Alaska and Oregon, where I earned my Master’s degree at Portland State University and began my administrative career. After spending nine years in Oregon, we moved to Michigan before settling in the West Side of Cincinnati in 2006.

Mary Beth is currently teaching Spanish at Elder. We have two children, Mary Catherine and Joseph, who attended Seton and Elder respectively.

I look forward to engaging with the St. William school and parish community. 

CISE Pint Night Fun!

Congratulations to Rhonda Morgan, who won tickets to a FC Cincinnati game in our drawing at Pint Night!

Pint Night at March First Brewery was great fun & we raised money for our mission! Thank you to all who came out to support CISE and also thank you to March First Brewery. We look forward to hosting another Pint Night soon.

Meet CISE Donors: Chris & Mike Wirth

Chris and Mike Wirth have been consistent annual donors to CISE since 2016. This year, they were excited to become high school scholarship donors, sponsoring a high school student for four years. 

“Having been blessed to have been able to provide our children with a Catholic education up through high school, we understand the value, and also the challenge, of doing so. We look at our pledge and contributions to the CISE scholarship fund as an opportunity to pay it forward to those parents and students who also see the value and challenge of the Catholic education, but who for various reasons may be unable to make this tremendous investment. Our hope is that the children take advantage of the opportunity that the CISE education provides to them, both religiously and academically. We’re very happy to support this great local organization providing opportunities for our local children and we hope others who read this may consider doing the same.” Chris & Mike Wirth

Dr. Mari Thomas Radio Interview

On July 5th, Dr. Mari Thomas was featured on Sacred Heart Radio’s program “Driving Home the Faith”. She talked with host, Fr. Rob Jack, about the new feasibility study she is leading with CISE to explore alternative pathways for our students after high school. Listen to the interview to learn more on this timely topic in education.