Yawkey Foundation makes $15 million grant for Catholic education

DORCHESTER -- The foundation created by the former owners of the Red Sox announced Sept. 26 that they will make a $15 million grant to the Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy and the teen center at St. Peter Church in Dorchester.

“With this exceptional and extremely generous grant to the Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, the Yawkey Foundation is helping hundreds of families in Dorchester and Mattapan and supporting the archdiocese in our efforts to strengthen Catholic education,” said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, who accepted the grant at a small ceremony held in a classroom at the academy’s Neponset campus, as students looked on from their desks.

“This award will enable us to establish the academy’s five campuses as centers of excellence for academics and personal formation, to the benefit of the families we serve in the city of Boston and the surrounding communities,” the cardinal said.

The superintendent of Catholic Schools, Mary Grassa O’Neill, who hosted the ceremony, said the day was special to her because she was once a student in that very building and this gift means future children will have the same chance for the same education.

The teen center was included in its request for the grant by the 2010 Initiative for Catholic Schools because of the significant overlap between the students at the academy and the young people active at the center, said Tiziana Dearing, the president of Catholic Charities, which is the social services agency of the archdiocese that operates the center. “They felt the teen center was part of the same constellation.”

James Healey, the president and a trustee of the Yawkey Foundation, said the trustees were proud to make the donation, which was a continuation of their founders’ generosity. “Throughout their lives, Tom and Jean Yawkey championed education as the cornerstone to a life of opportunity and success.”

In making the grant, the foundation is recognizing that by revitalizing the Catholic schools in these neighborhoods, the archdiocese is making an immeasurable investment in the future of our community, Healey said.

Father Thomas S. Foley, the archdiocese’s cabinet secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, said he was grateful and encouraged by the donation from the foundation. “I said a Mass this morning for the souls of Tom and Jean Yawkey.”

The academy is bringing families in Dorchester and Mattapan who have sent their children to Catholic schools for decades together with the families of new residents in the neighborhoods seeking the same opportunities, he said. Father Foley, as the pastor of St. Ann Parish in Dorchester, was part of the early plans for the academy.

Jack Connors Jr., the chairman of both the Campaign for Catholic Schools and the Strategic Planning Committee of the 2010 Initiative, said the size of the grant was amazing.

“I got the call from Jim Healey Wednesday night, and he kind of played with me a little,” Connors said. “He started off telling me it had been a tough meeting. Then, he let me know we got it.” The decision was expected Thursday morning.

Connors said the first call he made after hanging up the phone was yelling downstairs to his wife Aileen, “We got it!”

Smiling broadly, he said, “This is biggest day in the history of Catholic education, since the day I was admitted as a student at St. Aiden’s School in Brookline.”

The $15 million grant puts the 2010 Initiative more than halfway toward its $70 million fundraising goal for the academy, said Mary Flynn Myers, the Campaign for Catholic Schools’ vice president of development. In addition to the academy in Dorchester and Mattapan, the 2010 Initiative led to the creation of Brockton’s Trinity Catholic Academy, a two-campus school, formed from three of the city’s parish schools.

The 2010 Initiative is also beginning a revitalization of St. Ann Church School in Gloucester, she said. The school is the last Catholic elementary school on Cape Ann.

Connors said when the 2010 Initiative began three years ago nobody believed anything could be done to stop the decline of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“In 1965, there were 250 Catholic schools. Now, there are 99. It was the cardinal who came to us and said: ‘No mas,’” which is Spanish for “no more.”

“Now, the Yawkey Foundation has given us permission to believe again,” Connors said.