With enrollment rates down and a shrinking budget, Sacred Hearts School Maui was blessed with a $200,000 donation earlier this month.
"We were all squealing," Principal Susan Hendricks said. "We were completely surprised. A blessing of grace shined upon us this moment, and we're thankful it happened."
Jack Koraleski, chief executive officer for Union Pacific - the nation's largest railroad network - provided the donation after being impressed by teacher Bradley Mason.
"In our experience in today's world, it's hard to find a young person who takes responsibility so seriously and strives to be the best he can be for the good of the team," Koraleski said in an email to the school.
Mason, 31, is in his second year at the Lahaina Catholic school, where he teaches 7th-grade math and science.
Last month, he met Koraleski, who was on the island vacationing with his family, including Chris Koraleski, whom Mason was friends with in college.
A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, Mason met Chris Koraleski at a concert during his freshman year and the two have remained in contact ever since.
During the Koraleskis' visit, Mason was repeatedly asked to go hiking and participate in other activities with the family.
However, the Lahainaluna High School water polo coach declined the invitations in favor of practices and games, as well as school meetings.
The Chicago native did spend one night with the family, though, talking late into the evening with Jack and Chris Koraleski.
"We talked about life, Catholic schools, the church and how Catholic schools were struggling everywhere," Mason said.
One of those schools included Sacred Hearts.
The preschool-through-8th-grade school has about 160 students, 20 students fewer than last year.
"Before the 2008 economic downturn, we had 200 students," said Hendricks, who has been principal for 10 years. "We've had a gradual decline each year. . . . This is the first year we really dipped below in terms of budgeting."
The nonprofit, private school is funded by the church and its approximate tuition of $6,500 per student. Hendricks said that the budget is dictated by the number of students enrolled and has caused school officials to be "very pennywise."
"After receiving the donation, the first thing I thought of was perhaps our hardworking teachers might be able to get a raise," she said of the school's 14 teachers.
Hendricks also said that the money could be used to create a scholarship fund in the name of the Koraleski Foundation, to help students pay tuition.
"My thought is the reason we're low in enrollment rates is because families can't sacrifice the money to send their children to private school," she said. "I talked with many families that love our school but simply can't afford it."
Some of the money may also be used to improve the school's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, which could prove useful for Mason.
"Right now we borrow microscopes and equipment from (the Maui Economic Development Board), but it would be nice to have technology of our own," he said of his class consisting of 11 students. "Have whole sets the entire school can use."
Mason's passion for the school and his students is what impressed Jack Koraleski to make the donation, writing, "It was how much he cared for the school and kids who go there" that spoke volumes both for Bradley as a teacher and Sacred Hearts School as a nurturing place for children to learn and grow.
Mason and Hendricks are still in disbelief over the donation and believe the money will go a long way toward improving the school and its level of education.
"They were just really kindhearted and excited that they could help," Mason said of the Koraleski family. "They were very humble and honest about it, where everyone here was just floored by their generosity."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.