900 students from diocese in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — They weren’t in school, but Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told the 3,500 students from 180 Catholic schools around the state that their presence in the Capitol rotunda made it a school day.

Included in that number were 900 students from 39 of the 48 schools across the Diocese of Peoria.

The rally was part of the first “Catholics at the Capitol” event sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Illinois. In addition to hearing words of encouragement from Cardinal George and words of prayer from Bishop George Lucas of Springfield, the students heard words of hope from the legislators.

“I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to see all of you here,” said Sen. Dan Cronin of Lombard, who is the chief sponsor of a bill that would expand the Education Expense Tax Credit from $500 to $1,000. “You are my teammates.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Orland Park, the chief sponsor of a House bill that would double the Education Expense Tax Credit, said everything works better with a little competition.

“It’s overdue,” he said of the legislation. “The other side has more money — we need people with strong hearts.”

To prepare them for the work that needs to be done, Michael Padden, a Chicago attorney who sits on the legislative advisory board for the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago, talked about the expanded Education Expense Tax Credit as a matter of justice and led the students and parents in a variety of chants that echoed off the rotunda walls. Among them were “All kids count!” and “Support our choice!”

“We were grateful to have so many kids from so many schools there,” said Brother William Dygert, CSC, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria.

What the day allowed them to do was thank their legislators for the bills that have already been passed and to urge them to maintain and expand what has been done, he added.

“If you want the legislators to pay attention to your issues, you have to make the legislature aware that we are a group to listen to,” Brother William said.

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