MOORESVILLE – As soon as Clark Ross began his job as a Davidson College professor in 1979, he joined St. Therese Catholic Church.
“I’m a lifelong Catholic,” Ross said. “When I joined, there were only 120 families (at the church). We had a budget of $200-300 a week.”
Now, Ross said, times have changed. He estimates there are nearly 8,000 Catholic families living between Huntersville and Mooresville.
Ross recently announced that he will be supporting some of the students of those families through a nearly $6 million endowment for Catholic students at Davidson College and Christ the King High School in Huntersville.
“I’m very big on the notion of (combining) education and spirituality and service,” Ross said. “That’s the common thread to all of this.”
Ross’ endowment will give $3.6 million to Davidson College and $2.3 million to Christ the King High School after his death.
Ross, who attended Boston College for graduate school, said he thinks it is important to offer students a chance at spiritual-based education.
“I think that if you look at the political debate (now), it lacks ethics,” Ross said. “It lacks compassion. It lacks a commitment to doing things for others.”
Ross said his idea of spirituality is not limited to Catholicism or Christianity.
“As students think of their own spirituality and learn about it, that is a positive,” Ross said. “I’m very big on education, and on public education, but I’m also very big on having educational options that have religious traditions.”
The endowment to both schools would help pay tuition for select students who identify as Catholic. But Ross said the criteria for students would be slightly different between the two schools.
Ross said his three criteria for Christ the King students are financial need, work ethic and signs of success.
“It’s not about pure merit (and) who’s the best student,” Ross said. “It’s looking for a student who, in the absence of money, might not be able to go to Christ the King.”
Ross’ three criteria for Davidson students are financial need, spirituality and service.
Ross has already sponsored one or two students a year at Christ the King since 2015.
He does not choose the students who receive his donation but instead lets the staff decide based on his criteria.
Ross said it would work the same way at Davidson, with the admissions and financial departments choosing students who would receive money from his endowment.
“As long as I continue to work at Davidson, I will continue to support one or two students annually (at Christ the King),” Ross said. “The bulk of it would come in after my death, and that would be able to support more students.”
Next year will be Ross’ 40th year teaching at Davidson. He is the Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics in the college’s economics department. He was also vice president for academic affairs for 15 years.
He said he divided his endowment so Davidson would receive about 60 percent and Christ the King would receive about 40 percent.
“And it’s been very nice because since it was announced, former Davidson students … have reached out and said, ‘It makes us so grateful and proud that you elected to center this on Catholic students,’” Ross said.
The number of Catholic students at Davidson has grown from 223 students in 1997 to 356 in 2017. It is now the largest religious denomination represented at Davidson, according to first-year orientation survey data, at 17.7 percent.
The largest religious category represented by the survey is “other Christian,” at 35.6 percent in 2017.
“I just thought it was important with the Davidson (donation) that those of Catholic faith be recognized through something like this,” Ross said. “It demonstrates how welcome they are in Davidson, which they are.”
“Clark has given to Davidson students in every way – his time, energy, commitment and friendship – as he has given to all of us at this special college,” said Davidson President Carol Quillen. “His extraordinarily generous scholarship gift will support future students for generations to come.”
Ross said he chose to specifically focus on students with a religious commitment because he believes they are likely to help the world.
“I guess I’m purposely favoring them,” Ross said, “in that I feel they’re the type of person who would have much to offer in the future.”