Catholic Schools Foundation raises record $4 million at annual gala

BOSTON -- At their first in-person gathering since 2019, the Catholic Schools Foundation surpassed its fundraising goal, raising a record $4 million at the 32nd annual Building Minds Scholarship Fund celebration, which was held on April 7 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place.

The Building Minds Scholarship Fund, formerly called the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, is CSF's signature program. It grants partial scholarships to enable thousands of children, primarily in high-poverty neighborhoods, to attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.

In 2020 and 2021, the event was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, it took place in person once more, with nearly 800 donors and friends of CSF in attendance. It was also live streamed for those unable to attend.

As donors made their way to the dining room, they passed by exhibits set up by students from different schools around the archdiocese, from robots to art projects to an arcade basketball game.

The speaking program was emceed by WCVB Channel 5 anchor Ben Simmoneau. CSF Executive Director Mike Reardon shared welcoming remarks, and Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley gave the invocation before the meal.

The annual event also includes the presentation of the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award, which recognizes people and organizations that have made a transformative difference in the lives of CSF scholarship recipients.

Peter Lynch, president emeritus of CSF, presented the award, which was presented this year to Sister Janet Eisner. A graduate of St. Mary's High School in Lynn as well as Emmanuel College, she has been the president of Emmanuel College for 43 years and is set to retire this year, making her the longest-serving female college president in the United States.

In her acceptance remarks, Sister Janet spoke about trusting in the goodness of God, which she said is a core part of the spirituality of St. Julie Billiart, the founder of her order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

"My great hope for our Catholic schools is that they may continue to take to heart the importance of trust and to make it the foundation of creative and bold action in support of their mission," Sister Janet said.

The evening also featured the stories of current and former Catholic schools students who have been supported by the Building Minds Scholarship Fund. The three CSF scholars highlighted all had roots in St. Theresa of the Child Jesus School, formerly St. Catherine of Genoa School, in Somerville. They described the impact that the school and the scholarship played in their lives, and videos featuring their stories were provided by Putnam Investments.

The first featured student was Natalia Villefranche, currently in the fourth grade at St. Theresa's. In the video, she said she enjoys math and wants to study engineering. Her teacher, Pamela Mitchell, was also featured and expressed great confidence in her.

Jorge Ortiz, a senior at Malden Catholic High School, spoke about his involvement with La Colaborativa, which helps people in Chelsea and neighboring communities through charitable programs. He shared one of his most memorable moments with the club: giving out toys to families at Christmas.

"It felt so good to give back and help others like I was helped in the past," Jorge said.

He said that none of his activities would have been possible without the support of CSF. He thanked the donors for making a difference in his life as well as the lives of thousands of other students.

"I don't know what the future holds for me, but with St. Theresa's and Malden Catholic as my foundation, I know that the future is full of possibilities," he said.

The last CSF scholar was Joadly "Jojo" Duplan, who graduated from St. Joseph Preparatory School in 2017 and went on to study at Boston University Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Services. She is now the clinical research coordinator at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and she plans to attend nursing school and research pediatric oncology.

In her video feature, Duplan remembered mentoring younger grades when she was a seventh grader at St. Theresa's. That experience helped her to realize how much she loves working with children, and she knows that whatever she does in life will be to benefit the pediatric population.

"While Natalia, Jorge, and I may be at different points in our journeys, the values instilled in us in our small school in Somerville are why I can confidently say that my fellow speakers will strive to utilize their gifts in the same way, for the good of their neighbor," Duplan said when she addressed the assembly.

The final speaker of the evening was the dinner chair, Christopher Remondi, partner at Brown Brothers Harriman.

He recalled seeing Peter Lynch on television as a child, when his father made him watch the PBS program Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser.

"What my dad was teaching me was to never miss a good investment. And this fund is a great investment," Remondi said.

He told the attendees that by being there, they were giving Catholic schools students "the vote of confidence."

"You're saying that you believe in them, that you believe they can make this world a better place, and that's an amazing gift that you're giving," Remondi said.