EAST ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – You’ve likely never heard his name before and his way of raising money for a Catholic day care center is virtually unheard of as well.

Brother Norbert Karpfinger with the Society of Mary sends handwritten letters, about 600 each year, asking for donations. The 80-year-old lives in a convent house in East St. Louis, across the street from the last Catholic day care center in the city. He says he started writing the letters in 1997, in part because he doesn’t type.

“I’ve had many frustrations along the way but I have had many more pleasures along the way,” he said. “I wrote to many of my former students and to many other people and had some successes and I’m glad of that,” he adds, laughing lightly.

The frustrations came early on; his first 50 letters garnered only two responses. Since then his letter writing has raised about $60,000 each year, enough money to cover day care tuition for several dozen students. Most of those donations are made in $25 of $50 increments and account for one-fifth of the day care center’s budget.

“I don’t know if I can outlive the day care of if the day care can outlive me,” Karpfinger said, adding that he would like to continue writing the letters. As for why he doesn’t apply for grants or host gala dinners, he said those are simply too difficult.

Brother Norbert has lived in East St. Louis for a total of three decades. He taught at Assumption, a Catholic high school in the mid-1960s, which held nearly 600 students at its height. The school closed in 1989, graduating just 67 students that year. It is now used as a prison.

Karpfinger returned to the city in 1997 and found the day care center in dire straits. That’s when the letter writing campaign began.

After a New York Times article about his efforts last weekend, a family visiting the area from North Carolina came to the day care with three small children to make a donation.

“It was a surprise that his donation was three digits and bigger than I expected. It’s nice to see something like that,” he said.


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