By Catholic Futures Foundation Office
May 27, 2022
The gift of a Catholic education can transform the life not only of one child, but of that student’s entire family. Mercy High School senior Alexis Hernandez-Portuguez explains how her mother’s dream of giving her children a Catholic education finally came to fruition thanks to tuition assistance provided by generous donors and managed by the Catholic Futures Foundation. Sr. Delores Hannon, RSM, president of Mercy, witnesses how this assistance keeps Mercy’s doors open and opens doors for her students, year after year.
With her soft demeanor and bright smile, Mercy High School senior Alexis Hernandez-Portuguez is confidently looking to the future. She talks about her plans to attend the University of Nebraska Omaha to study business and math – math is one of her favorite subjects – so she can build a better future for her and her family.
As the oldest of four children, Alexis attended a public grade and middle school before starting at Mercy. Her mother, who immigrated from Mexico, wanted a different high school experience for Alexis. “My mom always believed a Catholic school would be the best thing for me so I could focus solely on school and not on people – especially boys,” she laughed.
But the road to a new high school had its challenges. The family was struggling financially and the prospect of attending Mercy was in doubt. “It was pretty rough. I didn’t think that going to Mercy would be possible and it upset me because I knew it was my mom’s dream to have me here where she thought I’d be more successful,” Alexis recalled. Her mother wanted Alexis and her siblings to have opportunities that her mother never had. “Her biggest thing is for us to educate ourselves and make her proud.”
Thanks to tuition assistance, that dream of a better life for Alexis and her mother is coming true. “Coming to Mercy is something that I wanted to do just for her. Without tuition assistance, I don’t think I’d be here. It’s the main reason I’m able to be here and be a part of this community,” she said. Alexis received aid from the Archdiocesan High School Tuition Assistance Program, which is administered by the Catholic Futures Foundation and funded by the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, private donors and the Foundation.
Although the transition from a public school to a Catholic high school was “kind of scary,” Alexis said that after meeting new students she felt like it was the right place for her. “It’s become like a home to me, so it’s nice. I love the sense of community. It’s a small enough school that you know everyone – it’s like a family,” she said. During her time at Mercy, she has participated in cross country and swimming, as well as the school prayer group, Divina, and a club for board game enthusiasts. She said that she values the school’s emphasis on faith.
“It is really nice to take a break from class and participate in Mass and prayer services. It gives me a sort of recharge.”
Looking down the road, Alexis hopes to graduate from college and travel the world. Though she has big plans for herself, her mom will continue to be at the forefront of her success. Alexis said that once she starts her career and can save money, she plans to buy her mom a home “where she won’t have to worry about moving around or paying for anything. I just want to buy her a home that‘s hers … and get her lots of plants. She loves plants.”
“Without tuition assistance, I don’t think I’d be here. It’s the main reason I’m able to be here and be a part of this community.”
– Alexis Hernandez-Portuguez
Tuition Assistance ‘Opens Doors’ for Mercy Students
Sr. Delores Hannon, RSM, president of Mercy High School in Omaha, said that Mercy believes the educational opportunities that the school provides should be available to all deserving students. The all-girl, college-prep school has a diverse population of about 350 students who come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds – about one-third are students of color and a quarter qualify for free or reduced lunch, while other students receive no aid. “I say we reflect what Omaha looks like,” she said.
To provide the much-needed assistance to students, Mercy relies on the generosity of friends and donors as well as the Archdiocesan High School Tuition Assistance Program and the Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund, both managed by the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Catholic Futures Foundation of Northeast Nebraska.
“I look at it (tuition assistance) as something that opens doors. I think in a Catholic Christian community, we need to be welcoming. And this is welcoming people into our school who would not be able to pay the bill and gives their daughters an opportunity. We work with immigrant families from Africa and Central and South America, and in Omaha from the west to north to south, and we keep opening those doors,” she said. “The Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund and the Archdiocese of Omaha are part of how we keep those doors open. It’s not an easy task some days. But we have to put all the pieces together to support these young women.”
Sr. Delores said that she hears again and again from parents that they want to send their daughters to a school where they are respected and safe and believe they can go to college. “They want their daughters’ lives to be better. They give to their kids, they cherish their kids, they love their kids, and they want to support these young people, but they have a limitation of finances. And so, the archdiocese, Mercy High School and many other people have helped these young women pursue that dream – the dream of their parents and the dream of their family.”
“The Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund and the Archdiocese of Omaha are part of how we keep those doors open. It’s not an easy task some days. But we have to put all the pieces together to support these young women.”
– Sr. Delores Hannon, RSM