A business group has pledged $4 million in matching grants to help seven urban Catholic schools create endowments during the 2010-11 academic year.

Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) on Thursday announced that it had signed partnership agreements with the schools as it launches its urban endowment initiative.

The pilot program advances an approach to helping financially strapped urban parish schools that BLOCS officials have been discussing for the last few years.

Five of the schools are in Philadelphia, and one each is in Chester and Lansdowne.

Joe Garecht, BLOCS executive director, said in the past that the organization's primary focus was on raising scholarship funds to help low-income students attend Catholic schools. He said the organization decided to broaden its scope to include helping to save Catholic schools, because so many were closing.

"Schools continue to close in places where they are needed most," he said.

In the last decade, the city has lost 30 percent of its Catholic elementary schools and enrollment has dropped by 41 percent.

Under the initiative, each of the seven schools will raise money and BLOCS grants will match each dollar. The money will be deposited in individual endowment accounts managed by BLOCS that will help cover schools' operating costs.

The schools' principals and pastors have agreed to work with BLOCS for the next two years, Garecht said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is for each school to have a $7 million endowment in three years.

The schools and the grants awarded by BLOCS are as follows: St. Francis DeSales, West Philadelphia, $1 million; Mercy Vocational High School, North Philadelphia, $1 million; Drexel Neumann Academy, Chester, $750,000; St. Malachy, North Philadelphia, $500,000; St. Cyril of Alexandria, East Lansdowne, $250,000; Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius of Loyola, West Philadelphia; $250,000; and St. Martin de Porres, North Philadelphia, $250,000.

BLOCS is an independent scholarship organization that raises funds throughout the Philadelphia area. It is supported by 70 businesses and corporations, and provides scholarships to low-income students from businesses that participate in the state's Education Improvement Tax Credit program.

Contributors to the BLOCS endowment initiative include philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest and Michael O'Neill, chief executive officer of Preferred Unlimited Inc., a Conshohocken firm involved in sand mining for the oil and gas industries. O'Neill is chairman of BLOCS.