Gala raises $5.6M to support CSF Building Minds Scholarship Fund

BOSTON -- Shadi Lopez discovered her "calling" while studying in Catholic schools.

The daughter of immigrants from El Salvador, Lopez graduated from East Boston Central Catholic School in 2015 and from St. Joseph Prep in 2019. She and her sister Daniela, who will begin attending Malden Catholic this fall, could not have attended Catholic schools if not for scholarships from the Catholic Schools Foundation.

"My parents left their country to be able to one day provide their family with a brighter future," Lopez said at the Catholic Schools Foundation's 34th annual Building Minds Scholarship Fund Gala, held at the Boston Marriott Copley Place on April 11. "That is exactly what they did. As Catholics, they admired the values and opportunities that a Catholic education instilled."

Lopez said that Catholic schools "instilled in me values and traditions that I will forever keep in my heart, and have shaped who I am today."

Outside of her family, her teachers have been the most important people in her life. She turned to them not only for academic guidance, but for life advice. Being in Catholic school made Lopez want to be a teacher, and she now teaches Spanish at Malden Catholic. Her favorite part of being a teacher is seeing the "brighter future" that she can help give her students.

"I know the impact that CSF has had on my life," she said to the hundreds of people who attended the gala. "And now, to see that impact on the lives of my own students makes me feel truly blessed and grateful."

The April 11 gala raised over $5.6 million to support the scholarship fund. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey made a special appearance to thank the foundation and its donors for "doing God's work," particularly for the generations of immigrants who have been uplifted by the Catholic schools system.

"I understand in this room in particular, the focus on the kids who are going to benefit," she said. "And when I say 'kids,' it's not only the kids. It's their brothers and sisters who will be inspired, who will see mentors. It's their parents who will be lifted and relieved of some burden, knowing that just because of their particular socioeconomic circumstance, their child is going to have possibly the same opportunity as every other child in this great state."

One of the students helped by CSF donations is Mariana Hincapie, a senior at Malden Catholic and graduate of East Boston Central Catholic School. Hincapie was the student speaker at this year's gala. At first, her parents planned to send her to public school when she reached second grade, because they could not afford tuition. She received scholarships from the CSF, and after graduating from Malden Catholic this year, she will be the first in her family to attend college.

"Catholic education is a part of who I am," she said. "It has shaped me and my family, and our scholarships from CSF have been a big part of this."

Her brothers Carlos and Pablo are attending St. John's Prep and EBCCS, respectively, thanks to CSF scholarships.

"The Catholic Schools Foundation has provided not just my family countless opportunities, but so many other kids as well," she said. "You are giving students an opportunity to attain an education and a start in life that they have never thought they could. Thank you."

At Malden Catholic, Hincapie has been in honors classes since freshman year, has taken five AP classes, and is a fixture on the honor roll. She is captain of the varsity cross-country indoor and outdoor track team, and is co-president of the 30-Day Challenge and Spirit Clubs. She plans to study business in college and become an entrepreneur. While applying to college, she received acceptance letters from Babson College, Stonehill College, Suffolk University, and the College of the Holy Cross. To her, it "was a true demonstration of how my Catholic education has paid off."

"I could not be more grateful and I could not be more excited to keep this legacy going," she said, "as I continue to grow in the spiritual values I've learned all these years."

Rick Henken, president and CEO of the Braintree-based Schochet Companies, received this year's Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award. Henken was president of the CSF from 2012 to 2015, and currently sits on its Gala and Advancement Committees.

Presenting Henken with the award, Lynch, whose philanthropy to Boston's Catholic schools is legendary in its own right, reminisced about the two men's childhoods. Lynch was Catholic and Henken was Jewish. Both men grew up in Newton and attended its public schools, which at the time were rated among the best in the country. They both realized the rare opportunity that such an education gave them.

"We said, 'So what if we were growing up in Lawrence, or Lowell, or Mattapan, or Dorchester?'" Lynch recalled. "It's not fair that half the people in the country get a good education, and half get a not-so-good education. We talked about that a lot."

Bishop Mark O'Connell delivered the invocation at the start of the gala. Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, who was in Rome, congratulated Henken in a prerecorded video message.

"In the course of meetings with the Holy Father this week," the cardinal said, "I've shared your collaboration with Catholic schools and how meaningful that is for all of us. Please know that the Holy Father extends his greetings and appreciation for your many good works."

Cardinal O'Malley said that both Catholics and Jews appreciate the value of tikkun olam, which is Hebrew for "repair the world."

"Rick, you have clearly heard the call in so many ways," the cardinal said, "helping the needy, the less fortunate, our senior citizens, and the children who are the future of our society. Thank you for being such a good friend to the Catholic Schools Foundation and strengthening the bonds that bring us all together."

The cardinal finished his message by saying "Mazel tov."

In his remarks, Henken said he was "just overwhelmed" to receive the award.

"Peter," he said, "I'm forever grateful for all that you do, and for inviting me long ago to this incredible mission."

He said that the CSF changes the life of the students it serves and has changed his life as well.

"I was so moved by the cardinal's words," he said, "and I am so moved by the recognition of the very special relationship between the Jewish community and the Catholic community."

Those words received a standing ovation.

Continuing his remarks, Henken said that the CSF gala is his favorite night of the year. To him, hearing people like Lopez speak is proof that what the CSF does matters.

"The best way that I know to directly and meaningfully impact the lives of our kids is through the gift of a first-rate, faith-based education delivered in a loving and nurturing environment," he said.

He said that regardless of their nationality, religion, or socioeconomic status, the students in the Archdiocese of Boston's Catholic schools are "no different" than his children or anyone else's.

"I'm so impressed by these young people," he said. "They're bright, they're curious, they're creative. They're incredibly motivated and driven to succeed. All they need is a chance and opportunity that most of us take for granted."

He cited Boston's Cathedral High School as an example. The school, once populated by Irish and Italian immigrants, now has a student body of "new arrivals from all over the world."

"They're just looking for an opportunity to work hard to succeed," he said, "to build a future for themselves and the generations that follow. And that's how I see it. The power of the education our schools provide sets the path for our students and all who come after them."

Henken said that he has been "blessed" to meet many generous people through his work for the CSF and thanked everyone for their donations.

"Please remember that these kids will need your support every year," he said. "I don't want to be the one to tell a family that their kid has to leave our school because we've lost a donation."