Inner-City Scholarship Fund celebrated at annual dinner

BOSTON -- The Catholic Schools Foundation held its 17th Annual Inner-City Scholarship Fund Dinner celebration at the Boston Marriott Copley Place on March 28. Troy Brown, wide receiver for the New England Patriots and trustee of the Catholic Schools Foundation was the evening’s featured speaker.

The dinner is held annually to celebrate and support the Inner-City Scholarship Fund (ICSF), which grants tuition assistance to inner-city students attending either primary or secondary Catholic schools. The ICSF raises more than $6.5 million for partial scholarships that help nearly 6,900 low-income students attend inner-city Catholic schools each year.

The evening began with students from the Cheverus Centennial School in Malden greeting attendees as they arrived. The students, many wearing traditional clothing from their countries, symbolized the multi-ethnic aspect of Catholic education, according to Mary Richardson, co-anchor of WCVB-TV’s Chronicle and moderator for the evening.

Before the dinner program, Bishop John P. Boles, Boston auxiliary bishop emeritus, delivered the invocation.

Bishop Boles thanked God for the “significant success of this very worthy cause” that has enriched the lives so many students.

Following the bishop’s invocation, Michael Reardon, executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation (CSF), made introductory remarks.

“As a graduate of a school supported by the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, I appreciate all that you do to make this program possible,” began Reardon. He told the attendees, most of whom are donors to the ICSF, that their generosity allows students to achieve beyond their expectations.

“Transforming these lives would not be possible without your help,” he said.

Following the dinner the evening’s student speaker, Sophia Occena, a senior at Mount Joseph Academy in Brighton, gave her personal account of what the ICSF has meant for her life.

“Without your financial assistance I would not have had the opportunity to attend the Mount,” she began. “The Inner-City Scholarship Fund has changed my life.”

Occena recounted how she was raised by a single mother in Cambridge.

“It has always been just my mother and me,” she said.

“Throughout my childhood, I saw how my mother struggled to raise me as a single parent,” continued Occena. “However, she always did her best to provide me with all my necessities.”

That proved more challenging when her two sisters arrived from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to live with them, Occena said. It was then that she completed elementary school and began looking toward high school.

“From the moment I left the open house [at Mount St. Joseph Academy], I knew this was where I wanted to go,” Occena said, but added that she knew the financial burden would be great for her mother.

Both she and her mother considered her partial scholarship from the ICSF “a miracle,” she said. Attending the school has been life changing.

“Since entering the Mount in 2003 as a freshwoman, I have grown into a woman of promise, a woman of purpose, and I know in the future I will be a woman of excellence,” she said confidently.

Occena hopes to attend Boston College in the fall, though she has not yet heard from the school. “I certainly hope [BC President] Father Leahy is here tonight,” she joked.

According to Occena, she plans to become a pediatrician, in part because of her current internship at a cardiologist’s office.

“This opportunity is a direct result of last year’s Inner-City Scholarship dinner,” Occena told the guests.

Last year, when Occena was a greeter at the ICSF dinner, Dr. Gerald Doyle “heard Mr. [Peter] Lynch emphasize the importance of helping young kids through education or employment,” Occena explained. This led him to find a student looking for an internship. Occena responded, and she has worked there ever since.

Occena ended her speech by thanking the many donors to the ICSF.

“Your support gives us hope and our parents hope,” she said. “I thank you for making a difference in my life and in my future.”

The annual Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award was presented to Troy Brown. The award, which was established in 2001, is given each year to “an individual who has made a difference in the lives of children,” Richardson explained before the award was presented.

In his remarks Brown thanked the organization for the award.

“I truly enjoy being a part of an organization that is doing so much to help so many kids,” he said.

Brown confessed to not being Catholic, explaining he was raised Southern Baptist.

“I don’t know what the similarities or the differences are between the Catholic Church and the Baptist church, but I do know that both religions believe in Jesus Christ and they believe in God, and that’s what I base a lot of my faith on,” he said.

“Some may ask the question: Why is this Southern Baptist guy from South Carolina on the board of trustees for the Catholic Schools Foundation and why am I speaking here tonight?” he continued. “The reason why is I identify with these kids.”

Brown explained that he spent most of his life in a housing project, without a plan for his future. All that changed when Brown was given a $500 scholarship to attend a local junior college.

“That small investment...was a turning point in my life,” he said.

Because of that scholarship, Brown attended a junior college, where he played football. Two years later, he was awarded an athletic scholarship to Marshall University in West Virginia. Upon graduation, he began playing professional football.

“So here I am, almost 20 years after being given that $500...the opportunity that changed the direction of my life,” he said.

“A small investment can really blossom,” Brown stressed. “You can make a big difference with a relatively small amount of money and time.”

“All kids deserve some people in their lives who believe they’ll succeed,”