BOSTON -- It was a black-tie affair with “plaid accents encouraged” at the Boston Marriott at Copley Place on March 5 when over 800 supporters of Catholic education turned out for the 18th Inner-City Scholarship Fund Dinner.
The annual event is held to support the fund, which will provide full or partial scholarships to over 5,500 primary and secondary Catholic school students in the archdiocese this year.
The evening also provides an opportunity to present the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award, which since 2001 has honored those who make a difference in the lives of children.
This year however, the award did not go to an individual but rather an innovative organization that is working to improve the conditions at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.
This year’s recipients make up the 2010 Strategic Planning Committee, part of the 2010 Initiative, aimed at revitalizing Catholic schools in the archdiocese by the close of the decade.
Jack Connors, chair of the committee, accepted the award on behalf of its members. He thanked the other members and acknowledged the newly formed Campaign for Catholic Schools, which is charged with raising funds for 2010 projects.
He said that the 2010 Initiative is a response to the fact that Catholic schools are in serious trouble. There are currently 100 schools in the archdiocese, down from 250 in 1960 and enrollment has decreased by 5 percent in each of the past five years. Teachers are underpaid and the school buildings are old and in need of renovation, he said. The last new Catholic school was built in 1953.
The 2010 project in Dorchester and Mattapan plans to build the first new school building in Boston in 55 years, he added.
Connors stressed the importance of Catholic schools, calling them the “future of our faith.” He then urged Catholics to support the schools in the archdiocese, which is no easy journey, he said.
He recalled an advertisement placed by Sir Ernest Shackleton for a voyage to cross Antarctica that read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
Also in attendance was Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley who honored the archdiocese’s interim secretary of education and superintendent of schools, Sister Kathleen FitzSimons, CND who has served with distinction, he said.
He also recognized the newly appointed secretary of education and superintendent, Mary Grassa O’Neill.
Prior to the dinner, Cardinal O’Malley visited with the student performers from St. Mark School who clamored to have their picture taken with him. Later, the students sang “Amazing Grace” and played the violin and tin whistle.
The student speaker of the program, North Cambridge Catholic High School senior Jennifer Etienne, described her typical day for the audience.
She said she wakes at 5 a.m. to help her 6-year-old brother get ready for school and watches him after school when her mother is at work. She is involved in campus ministry, drama, volleyball, softball and the National Honor Society. She also tutors other students.
Etienne said she feels blessed to have been given the opportunity to attend Catholic school, adding that she hopes to be the first in her family to graduate from college. Her first choice is Boston College, she said.
She told ICSF supporters, “I hope to someday have as great an impact on students’ lives as you have had on mine.”
In his remarks, Peter Lynch, chairman of the fund for the last 17 years, recognized the Catholic teachers in the 800-person crowd, asking them to stand up for a round of applause.
“We have the best teachers -- spectacular individuals,” he said.
The keynote speaker, Peggy Noonan, also commended Catholic school teachers for their dedication and the sacrifices they make.
“I think a lot of Catholic school teachers are heroic,” said Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of several books including her most recent work, “John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father.”
Noonan said she visited Cathedral High School in the South End earlier in the day. She witnessed 11th grade students debating the romantic poets and found the students “polite, friendly and fabulous,” she said.
She added that the United States and the culture need Catholic schools. They are the great alternative to public schools. In Catholic schools morality is taught alongside academics, God is acknowledged and students learn that not all of life can be quantified into numbers.
Mary Richardson -- the evening’s mistress of ceremonies and anchor for Chronicle, a newsmagazine that airs on WCVB-TV Channel 5 -- said Catholic schools help students to develop a moral compass and desire to make a difference.
She praised donors to the ISCF for their support of Catholic education, saying “You give so generously of your time and money.”
Lynch noted that even though millions of dollars were raised for the ISCF, more could help the 10,000 Catholic students who will not receive financial aid this year.