The pastor of St. John Berchmans in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood knew his school could expect financial help when John and Kathy Schreiber signed on as Patrons through Big Shoulders Fund. But early on, it became clear the Schreiber family would bring much more to the relationship, especially one Saturday when John appeared with several of the couple’s eight adult children to paint the school.
“All of the children have supported the work we’re doing here,” said Father Wayne Watts, pastor of the church. “I pick up my phone and I say I need X, and I can pretty much believe X will be delivered by the Schreibers—whether that be their time, their treasure, or their advice.”
With his long record of success in commercial real estate, John Schreiber has offered business advice and served as a sounding board to help Father Watts make strategic decisions about how to turn around the school. While the family didn’t finish all the painting work that first Saturday, one son later sent a crew to finish it up. Another daughter organized her alumni group to clean the school. One son helped with marketing; another became a mentor to a struggling student. Daughter Heather Sannes became head of St. John Berchmans’ school board, which also counted sons Michael and Nicholas Schreiber as members at one time or another.
In 2005, a year before the Schreibers became Patrons, St. John Berchmans made headlines—and not in a good way. It landed on the short list of schools slated for closure. Parishioners at the time rallied and convinced the Archdiocese to give the school a second chance. Father Watts and his newly hired principal, Peggy Roketenetz, knew they needed to hit the reset button to combat the negative buzz. But with a shoestring budget, they had few resources to improve the school grounds or add programming that would attract young families.
“The Schreibers came in and we did all of those things,” Father Watts said. After making physical improvements to the building and grounds, the family funded a part-time marketing person, who helped to change the school’s image. St. John Berchmans also was able to hire a full-time art teacher and a gym teacher.
“We couldn’t have dreamed of hiring an art teacher or putting new technology in the school,” remarked Roketenetz, whom Father Watts plucked from the congregation to help lead the school turnaround. “They allowed us to really enrich our academic and physical environment to attract new families and build who we were—and are.”
Enrollment nearly doubled, from 137 students to about 260. Though their official patron term is now over, the Schreibers maintain a close connection with the school and with Father Watts, who officiates at family weddings.
After seeing the impact they were able to make at St. John Berchmans, the Schreibers asked to extend the Big Shoulders Fund Patrons Program to a school closer to their home in Lake County, Most Blessed Trinity in Waukegan. Heather is now chairing the board there.
For John Schreiber, the reward for these efforts comes when he hears success stories like that of one scholar from Most Blessed Trinity, who then went on to Loyola Academy, which the family also supports. She seized the opportunities given her, emerging as a leader on both campuses. She earned a full scholarship to Saint Louis University. “She’s going to be a success at SLU like she was at Loyola, and like she was at Most Blessed Trinity. That’s hugely satisfying,” John said. “You open the first door, and there’s a chance to open a second, and a chance to open a third, which is awesome when you think of where the children came from.”
Daughter Heather agreed: “Big Shoulders Fund is helping open those doors.”
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