Gala celebrates 15 years of Campaign for Catholic Schools

BOSTON -- Emily DaSilva's father liked what he saw.

Mr. DaSilva, a janitor at St. Catherine of Siena School in Norwood, was so impressed by the school that he worked three jobs so his daughter could receive a Catholic education. When she entered sixth grade, her father had saved up enough money to enroll her in Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton.

Emily, now attending Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, shared her family's story at the Campaign for Catholic Schools 15th Anniversary Dinner, held at Boston's Seaport Hotel on Nov. 2.

"I would like to thank you all for creating this path for me and my family," Emily told the donors, priests, faculty, and alumni in attendance.

In honor of the organization's 15th anniversary, the dinner raised $15 million for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The dinner was also a celebration of the work of Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and CCS founder and chair Jack Connors.

"They heard God's call," said Sister Gail Donahue, guidance coordinator and campus minister at St. John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester. "So never underestimate the power of two Irish Catholic lads who were products of Catholic education."

Shortly after CCS was founded in 2007, Cardinal O'Malley and Connors raised $130 million to transform 10 struggling Catholic schools in Brockton and Dorchester into the modern Trinity and St. John Paul II campuses, which have served 26,000 students. The campuses are currently home to 1,500 students, 100 percent of whom graduate and go on to high school. Seventy-five percent of them go to Catholic high schools. The average family income of the students is $47,000, and 40 percent of those students come from single-parent homes. Forty-four students do not have a permanent home.

The dinner began with a blessing delivered by two students from Trinity and two from St. John Paul II. The prayer, written by eighth-grade religion students at Trinity, was recited in four languages.

Connors received the first-ever Jack Connors Good Samaritan Award, which, starting next year, will be given annually to a student at Trinity and St. John Paul II.

"We're really here to celebrate the restoration of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Boston," Connors said.

He recalled that in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, he and his wife were debating whether to leave the church. Ultimately, his faith was unshakable.

"We wanted to stay, and we wanted to help fix things," he said. "Make things better."

As Cardinal O'Malley accepted the Jack and Eileen Connors Founders Award, he said that none of CCS's work would have been possible without Connors's fundraising know-how.

"Most people find fundraisers burdensome," Cardinal O'Malley joked. "Jack Connors delights in taking your money."

Joking aside, Cardinal O'Malley said that when it comes to generosity, Connors leads by example. He added that no institution in American history has done more to uplift immigrant and minority communities than Catholic schools.

Along with the award, Cardinal O'Malley received a bowl made by St. John Paul II students. Every person at the dinner received a personalized letter from a Catholic school student in the archdiocese, describing how Catholic education has impacted their lives. Dinner attendees also got to hear testimony from students and faculty members, which Cardinal O'Malley called "the greatest reward" of the night.

One of the students who spoke at the dinner was Samuel Cintra, valedictorian of Cathedral High School's Class of 2019. When Cintra came to Dorchester from Cuba at age 11, he spoke little English, but his teachers at St. John Paul II never gave up on him. He is now an intern at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington.

"Thank you all for being here tonight," he said, "and providing me with ambition and a brighter future."