TEMPLE TERRACE — As parents, parishioners and their friends mingled during a night of live and silent auctions, dancing and dinner at Corpus Christi Catholic School's gala, the annual event, held at Saddlebrook Resort, took on more meaning than usual.
The pre-K through eighth-grade school in the heart of Temple Terrace was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Over the years, the event has gained more importance in other ways too, principal Carmen Caltagirone said, as the school, like many other small Catholic elementary schools, has turned to creative ways of fundraising to combat financial challenges.
"Catholic schools across the country are in tough financial straits," Caltagirone said. "The survival of Catholic schools will depend on the whole community getting involved."
As enrollment in Catholic schools across the country has dipped since peaking in the 1960s, and the costs of providing education and competitive pay for teachers has increased, Catholic elementary schools in particular have been impacted most severely.
According to the National Catholic Education Association, over the last 10 years, Catholic schools have seen an almost 23 percent decline in enrollment and more than 1,500 Catholic schools have been closed.
Caltagirone said providing an accessible education has become increasingly difficult. Some schools within the same diocese have been forced to close, she said.
When she attended school, tuition was approximately $4 a month, she said. Now, it's close to $600.
"That's more than some families are able to do, but we want to be able to provide a Catholic education to any family that wants one," she said.
Proceeds from the gala event help defray the cost of providing education and help with partial tuition waiver scholarships. Each year, the goal is to raise about $100,000 through various fundraising methods. Though the total amount collected from the gala through auctions and bids is still unknown, Caltagirone said this year's attendance was better than many in the past.
Bernie Seeley, a Temple Terrace resident and longtime member of the parish who said he didn't have any kids that attended the school, said he thought it was important to attend the event and support the school.
"Parochial education is vital to our community," he said. "It's amazing, the things the school has been able to do over time."
Debbie Revels, a 1982 graduate of Corpus Christi and a former gala co-chairwoman, said despite its size and limited resources, the school, which her daughter now attends, has evolved since her time there.
"The amount of extracurriculars offered is so impressive, from Spanish to art and P.E.," she said.
Frances Farina, a Temple Terrace resident in her 60s, who has seen her children and grandchildren pass through the school, said though many of the curricular elements have modernized with the times, some of the basic tenets of the school have remained the same.
"It's a great school that provides a strong moral foundation, which is important these days," she said.