Four Catholic school seniors receive inaugural Father Endress Scholarship

By Megan Erbacher

The Message assistant editor

Four Catholic high school seniors were recently surprised to learn their college tuitions will be less burdensome thanks to a new scholarship.

The inaugural recipients of the Father Endress Scholarship are Mater Dei High School’s Nathan Schneider and Briana Stephens, and Reitz Memorial High School’s Jack Nichols and Gina Ziebell.

In honor of the late-Father James Endress, the scholarship was established in 2021 to benefit well-deserving Mater Dei and Reitz Memorial graduates who are planning post-secondary education at any accredited technical or vocational school, college or university in the United States.

Father Endress was ordained April 3, 1960, and he served the Diocese of Evansville and his country in many roles, including 17 years as an Army military chaplain, before returning home and eventually retiring in 2004. He died Jan. 20, 2021, at age 86.

The annual scholarship is $10,000 and is renewable for up to three additional consecutive years. Recipients must meet the following criteria: 

  • Current graduating senior of Mater Dei or Reitz Memorial
  • SAT or ACT scores on file
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • Attend college on a full-time basis

Mater Dei Director of Guidance Shea Reneer explained the three-round selection process included applications and students completing a one-hour timed writing prompt; those who advanced edited and created a formal essay from their original writing prompt, and provided a pastoral reference and a letter of recommendation; and finally being interviewed by four committee members – two representing Mater Dei and two representing Reitz Memorial – for the final selection of scholarship recipients.

Each school held surprise announcements for the winners, and family representatives for Father Endress included Carol Burns and Thom Endress.

“The impact this (scholarship) has can’t be measured in dollars because these students now can breathe,” Reneer said. “It’s going to let them focus on their education. They’re going to have the stress taken off of that financial piece, and they’re just going to do amazing things.”

Nathan Schneider is the son of Ken and Teri Schneider and is a member of Resurrection Parish. Schneider plans to attend Purdue University and major in computer science.

“College is going to be so tough, and I’m going to be surrounded by different people,” Schneider said. “I’m already going to be stressed out with classes, and this just allows that (financial) part to be pushed away for now. I’m very grateful.”

Briana Stephens is the daughter of Jacob Stephens and granddaughter of Greg and Ledra Beasley, with whom she has lived for the past eight years. She is a member of Holy Redeemer Parish and plans to attend Murray State University to major in nursing.

When Stephens was 8-years-old, her mom passed away. With one living parent, she said the financial need was “obviously there.” 

“This is a little weight off of my back, but it’s also going to help me stay very focused because they gave me that scholarship for a reason,” she said. “And I don’t want to just blow that away, I want to make it mean something.”

Jack Nichols is the son of Scott and Becky Nichols and is a parishioner of Holy Rosary. He plans to attend Notre Dame University and major in biochemistry. Nichols said the scholarship alleviates an “immense burden” to afford his dream university.

“It has been my wish for these four years at Memorial to leave a legacy and have a positive impact on the school,” he said. “The work is not yet finished, but I am proud to be a part of something like this scholarship that will carry down to those who follow … for years to come.” 

Gina Ziebell is the daughter of Kim Hartweck and is a parishioner of St. Benedict Cathedral. Ziebell plans to attend Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and major in biology. Ziebell said she can now give a two-week notice at one of her after-school jobs.

“Winning this scholarship is not only a blessing, but it is life-changing,” she said. “This scholarship was truly one of God's greatest miracles placed in my life. … I am so honored to have received this great award, and it will stick with me for the rest of my faith journey and the rest of my life.”

Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daryl Hagan congratulated the four students.

“We believe this scholarship will remove barriers for our students and provide them more time to study while continuing to serve others in need,” Hagan said. “I am grateful to the Endress family for their support of Catholic schools.”

The students expressed their gratitude to the selection committee and the Endress family.

“Even after (Father Endress) has passed, he’s still affecting people’s lives,” Stephens said.

The inaugural recipients of the Father Endress Scholarship are Reitz Memorial High School’s recipients are Jack Nichols, left, and Gina Ziebell. Submitted photo

The inaugural recipients of the Father Endress Scholarship are Mater Dei High School’s Briana Stephens, left, and Nathan Schneider. Submitted photo