Roches gift $20 million to BC Center for Catholic Education

CHESTNUT HILL -- Boston College’s Center for Catholic Education will be named the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education in recognition of a $20 million gift from the longtime Boston College benefactors.

Patrick Roche, a 1951 graduate of Boston College and the founder of Massachusetts-based Roche Bros. supermarkets, and his wife, Barbara, made the donation in support of Catholic education, which they said has had a profound effect on their lives.

“Catholic education shaped who we are today, and when Boston College gave us an opportunity to help strengthen Catholic education through this center, we knew we wanted to help,” said Patrick Roche.

The Roche Center for Catholic Education, part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, trains graduate and undergraduate students to administer and teach in Catholic schools and universities nationwide. It also conducts ongoing national research on staffing, student demographics and the structure of Catholic elementary schools, produces the journal Catholic Education: A Journal of Theory and Practice, and directs the Urban Catholic Teachers Corps, which trains teachers to serve in Boston’s inner-city Catholic Schools.

In addition, the center directs St. Columbkille Partnership School, a model Catholic elementary school that pairs the once-struggling school with the educational resources of Boston College.

In announcing the gift, BC President Father William P. Leahy, SJ, praised the Roches for their generosity, which he said will help the center to prepare leaders for all levels of Catholic education, while researching and developing solutions to the critical challenges facing Catholic schools, colleges and universities.

“Barbara and Pat Roche have done so much for Boston, Boston College and Catholic education,” said Father Leahy. “It is tremendous to have this center bear their name and to carry on their lifelong commitment to Catholic education.”

Patrick Roche and his brother Bud founded Roche Bros. supermarkets in Roslindale in 1952. Headquartered in Wellesley, the company now has 18 Massachusetts locations from Burlington to Cape Cod.

“Our mother died when my brothers and I we were young kids, ages 6-12, and our faith and Catholic education helped with our upbringing,” said Roche. “Catholic education was a great gift in my life. When Barbara and I saw the number of Catholic schools that were closing, we wanted to help, and BC gave us an opportunity to do so.”

In addition, Boston College has announced that Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington and the former vice president for academic affairs at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC, has been named executive director of the center, beginning July 1.

Lynch School of Education Dean Father Joseph O’Keefe, SJ, praised Weitzel-O’Neill as an energetic and creative leader in Catholic elementary and secondary education. “Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill is a forward-thinking leader with a proven track record as superintendent of a major archdiocese, who also brings a wealth of leadership experience in higher education,” said Father O’Keefe. “We are pleased to have her lead the Roche Center for Catholic Education, and given her vision and educational background, I know that she is delighted to return to the Jesuit educational apostolate.”

As superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, Weitzel-O’Neill was responsible for 29,000 students in 96 early learning, elementary and secondary schools. During her eight-year tenure, she was credited with strengthening the schools’ academic programs, introducing a standards-based curriculum and enhancing professional development standards. In addition, she was instrumental in efforts to secure the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federal initiative that enabled thousands of low-income children to attend parochial schools.