AUBURN — Saint Dominic Academy has exceeded a fundraising goal to help more students afford tuition at the private, Catholic college prepatory school.

“It’s a feel-good moment. People are thrilled,” Advancement Director Wayne Zimmerman said Monday. “People gave surprising amounts for their situation.”

This summer, Don Dion offered to donate $75,000 to the scholarship fund if the school community matched his donation in August. Dion graduated from St. Dom’s in 1972, worked in finance and credited St. Dom’s for contributing to his success.

Dion’s offer was accepted and called The Dion Scholarship Challenge.

Donations came in, but last week the school was short of the goal. In the final hours before the deadline, two groups made reaching the goal happen: the Alumni Association and the Del and Pat Gendron family, said school spokeswoman Laurie Michlig.

As people donated, they often said the same thing.

“They had a great experience at St. Dom’s and they wanted to help,” Zimmerman said. “It’s nice to see that.”

St. Dom’s tuition has increased. Annual tuition is now $11,975 for high school, $6,475 for grades seven and eight and $4,600 for grades kindergarten to six. In 2010, tuition was $7,700 for high school and $2,300 for elementary school.

The academy is not in the realm of affordability for some families, Zimmerman acknowledged. While the money raised by the Dion challenge is significant, the school has an annual scholarship fund of $600,000, “a fair chunk,” Zimmerman said. It’s that high because the vision of the school is that it be available to many.

In recent decades a shrinking birthrate, a tough economy and fewer people going to church donating money that supported Catholic schools prompted many schools to close or raise tuition. Helping more students afford St. Dom’s was the reason donors gave to Dion’s challenge, Zimmerman said.

“I am both impressed and touched by our St. Dom’s family. Everyone involved pulled out all stops that led to a successful challenge in five short weeks of summer,” St. Dom’s President Donald Fournier said in a news release.

In the same news release, Dion said he’s proud the St. Dom’s community “stepped up to help us raise over $150,000 to support families working so hard to send their children to the best school in Maine.” He said he’s inspired that so many have given back. St. Dom’s provides a strong foundation, he said. “I am honored to help pass this opportunity on to more students.”

School officials said Monday that it’s not clear how many more students the $150,000 will allow to attend the academy. Families who apply for admission can receive scholarships based on family income and need.

On Friday, Bishop Robert Deeley will come to the Auburn campus to celebrate the start of a new school year and the scholarships with an annual Mass.

High school classes started Aug. 18; elementary grades begin Wednesday, Aug. 26.

The high school was founded in Lewiston in 1941. By 2010, as Catholic schools began to close and consolidate, then-Bishop Richard Malone announced the school would become Saint Dominic Academy for elementary, middle and high school students.

Today, St. Dom’s has about 600 students attending two campuses; the elementary campus next to Lewiston’s Holy Cross Church off Lisbon Street, and a grade 7-12 campus on the Gracelawn Road in Auburn.

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High school classes have started at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn. From left are students Jonathan Tshamala, Luke Jordan and Mikayla Jackson.

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