St. Thomas School in Philo receives donation of $1 million

By: By Tom Dermody

CAPTION: Surrounded by members of the eighth grade class of St. Thomas School in Philo as well as parish and school officials, Robert Trost of Dallas, Texas, presents a symbolic check to Bishop Jenky representing his $1 million gift to his former grade school. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)


PHILO — When Robert Trost went to St. Thomas School here from 1936 to 1944, the school had two rooms, no indoor plumbing, and softball was played on spring days in a nearby cow pasture.

“One room was for grades 1-4, with Sister Mary Bernarda in charge, and the other was for grades 5-8, with Sister Mary Francis, who also served as principal,” Trost recalled to The Catholic Post on Monday.

This week, it was announced that Trost — a successful entrepreneur now living in Dallas, Texas — has made a gift of $1 million to ensure the continued health of his former grade school, as well as to preserve the Trost family name in the community where he was raised.

The historic gift will establish “The Trost Family St. Thomas School Educational Endowment Fund,” parish and school officials announced on Jan. 24, the eve of Catholic Schools Week.

“It is ‘pay back’ time for me,” said Trost, 83. He returned this week to Philo, a community just south of Champaign-Urbana, where his generosity was to be recognized Wednesday at a reception and open house at St. Thomas School. He also met with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in Peoria on Tuesday.

Acknowledging his success in the business world — with personnel recruiting firms, as well as property investments — Trost said “it’s time to share with others who have helped me along the way, particularly with my education.”

While the gift was received in December, Catholic Schools Week — which runs from Jan. 25 to 31 — seemed a fitting time to announce and celebrate it, according to Father Robert Lampitt, administrator of St. Thomas Parish.

“These kind of gifts are extremely rare and quite special, particularly for a small school like ours,” said Father Lampitt. St. Thomas currently has 91 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade and 32 students in its preschool.

The school was founded in 1905 under the name of St. Joseph Academy. The name was changed in 1937 to better reflect its connection to St. Thomas Parish. At least 10 members of the Trost family attended the school, including his father, Howard, and siblings James and Marge, all deceased.

“I wanted to do something that would perpetuate the family name,” said Robert Trost. “The St. Thomas endowment should accomplish this goal.”

Melissa Reder, principal, said St. Thomas School has a long tradition of providing affordable Catholic education to families and the Trost gift “will help us continue this tradition.” In addition to offering tuition assistance, revenue from the endowment can also help with teacher salaries and the school’s facility needs.

Noting that some smaller Catholic schools have had to close because of enrollment or financial concerns, “St. Thomas has been able to survive because it has always enjoyed strong support from its parish families as well as the wider community,” said Reder.

The Trost family home was just three houses down from the church and school and young Robert was a frequent altar server. He said he learned self-discipline and discipline from the Dominican Sisters of Springfield at the school, in addition to “morals, ethics, and appreciation of what you have.”

The parish and school community of St. Thomas was looking forward to showing their appreciation for what they now have, thanks to Robert Trost’s generosity.

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