Local philanthropist honored by Catholic University

BRIGHTON — There were no gowns, mortarboards or marching bands but still it was an auspicious occasion when local philanthropist Leonard Florence received his honorary degree from the Catholic University of America.

Because it was unclear whether Florence would be able to attend the university’s commencement in Washington D.C. this May, university president Father David M. O’Connell, CM took the occasion of a Boston visit to deliver the degree to Florence at his home in Chestnut Hill on Aug. 23.

In a short but formal presentation Father O’Connell conferred the honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science on Florence, a benefactor of many institutions including Catholic University and, locally, Catholic Charities and St. John Seminary.

Florence’s wife, Charlotte, and St. John Seminary Rector Father John Farren were also in attendance.

According to the citation read at the presentation by Father O’Connell, Florence was awarded the degree for “his outstanding professional accomplishments and humanitarian efforts on behalf of all people.”

Florence has donated time and money to many worthy causes including several Catholic organizations. Father O’Connell referred to Florence as a “friend and benefactor” of Catholic University.

“He has been and remains a great friend of the Archdiocese of Boston,” he said. “Leonard Florence has made it his life mission to embody the words ‘entrepreneur,’ ‘humanitarian,’ and ‘friend;’ by all accounts, he found success in every one.”

Florence’s parents were Jewish Russian immigrants who owned a convenience store in Chelsea. One of eight children, he worked part-time jobs while attending Chelsea High School and went on to graduate from Boston University with a degree in business administration.

Early in his career he was key in rescuing the company Raimond Silver from financial difficulties and went on to open his own company.

“By 1986, Mr. Florence started a new business and became chairman, president and chief executive officer of Syratech Corporation,” said Father O’Connell. Throughout the years he acquired Syroco, Wallace International Silversmiths, Inc. and Towle Company, and helped make them profitable companies.

Florence has served on numerous boards of directors, including Catholic Charities. In 1993 Florence received the Order of Knights of St. Gregory the Great — a Catholic organization that recognizes social good works without considering religious beliefs — and in 2000 Pope John Paul II elevated him to the rank of commander.

He has received two lifetime achievement awards and numerous honorary degrees in recognition of his commitment to helping others.