A local business group announced plans to help boost the endowment of Chester's only Catholic school by $5 million over the next 15 months.

Michael O'Neill, chairman of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, said yesterday that his group would help the school raise the funds.

The proposal to help Drexel Neumann Academy came as O'Neill was set to join representatives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a White House summit today to discuss the saving of faith-based schools in inner cities.

The plan to help Drexel Neumann came from Daniel J. Hilferty, president and chief executive of AmeriHealth Mercy, Mercy Health System, and H. Edward Hanway, chief executive of Cigna Corp., who recently joined the BLOCS board.

With a strong board and a detailed business plan, Drexel Neumann is a successful model for the approach that BLOCS is seeking to introduce at 20 to 25 other inner-city parish schools to ensure their survival, O'Neill said.

By working together, both Drexel Neumann and BLOCS will be able to raise even more funds for Catholic education, he added.

BLOCS' efforts to secure grants with matching funds could also provide additional resources for the school.

In the spring of 2006, the Chester Catholic school, which was known then as St. Katharine Drexel School, was struggling to remain open. But Cardinal Justin Rigali announced not only that the school would remain open for the 2006-07 academic year but also that the archdiocese would work with others to provide long-term financial support.

In moving to keep to keep the school open, Rigali pointed out it was the only remaining Catholic school in Chester.

Now known as Drexel Neumann Academy, the school became an independent Catholic school for students from prekindergarten through eighth grade.

The school is sponsored by Neumann College; Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a religious community; the St. Katharine Drexel Parish; and the archdiocese.

Also attending the White House Summit on Inner City Children and Faith-Based Schools are Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who oversees education in the five-county archdiocese, and Richard McCarron, secretary for Catholic education.

The event is expected to draw 250 participants from across the country, according to the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Bush announced he would hold the summit to consider ways to make sure that inner-city children continue to have access to successful, faith-based schools. Between 1996 to 2004, nearly 1,400 such schools closed for financial reasons.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.