HARTFORD – More than 900 people attended the annual Archbishop’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast at the Connecticut Convention Center March 17, making Catholic education possible for many students who otherwise could not afford it, according to organizers of the event.
Cynthia Basil Howard, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Catholic Schools (FACS) in the Archdiocese of Hartford, said a single mom approached her on the day of the event with tears in her eyes, thanking her for making Catholic education a reality for her child.
Mrs. Howard said she and members of the FACS board of trustees hear stories like this often. “This kind of thing is the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
FACS is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that distributes scholarship grants for Catholic education.
Cindi Bigelow, third-generation president and CEO of Bigelow Tea, began her keynote remarks with the hopeful sentiment, “I can only imagine breakfasts like this around the country, where pots of gold like you have in the middle of your tables are so filled with money that we can give every child a scholarship.”
She said her 70-year-old company, much like donors to Catholic schools, strives to achieve perfection. “There are so many things that I could have done and my parents could have done just to cut corners, just to make the tea a little bit cheaper,” she said. “No one is going to know. They’re not going to open the tea bag, right? We won’t do that.”
She said generous contributors to Catholic education are doing the same thing. “You are making a difference in these kids’ lives. You are helping our society, and, boy, do we need that,” she said.
“You are giving family after family the peace of mind that their precious – and I mean precious – child is in a safe and nurturing school,” she said. “What you are doing is amazing. And I ask that you always keep this passion that I see in this room.”
She concluded, “I can only imagine a room filled with 1,000 people making this world a better place. The only thing is, I don’t have to imagine that. It’s right in front of me.”
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, honorary chair of the breakfast, said, “Your presence this morning is a testimony to the important role that our Catholic schools play in our communities as real centers of excellence.”
He said he is working with pastors to find creative solutions to the many challenges Catholic schools face. Such solutions might include repurposed buildings, new academic structures and in some unavoidable cases, “even closures.”
“But far from signaling a diminished future for Catholic schools, realistic solutions can lead to greater stability and growth. For this to happen, we are deeply grateful not only for your financial contributions but also, I hope, for your support in things like interdistrict busing, without which our efforts to strengthen our schools are hampered,” he said.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reminded attendees that his middle initial stands for Patrick. He said the event reminded him of his days at St. Bridget School in Stamford. “I basically come here to thank you for your leadership in raising money for Catholic schools,” he said. “At its very core, [Catholic education] teaches values, moral values.”
Father Philip J. Sharkey, pastor of St. Rita Parish in Hamden, is one of the FACS trustees. He told the[MJ1] Transcript after the event, “I serve on the financial committee, and every year when we go through all the applications for students who apply for the scholarships, it’s sad. It’s really sad to see how many single moms are raising the children. The income that they make is unbelievable and yet they strive to work two or three jobs to send their kids to school, and it’s not enough. And it’s sad because you can’t give everybody a scholarship.”
Paul Bowman of Cheshire said, “I had the privilege of going to St. Bridget School in Cheshire in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. It’s a wonderful experience and a special part of my life.”
He said he has been to the breakfast on several previous occasions.
John Brett, of Corpus Christi Parish in Wethersfield, said, “I’ve had an education in Catholic schools and I really appreciate it. It laid a great foundation for me in my future education in college and law school, and that’s why we support it. We have two grandchildren currently in Catholic schools.”
The Archbishop’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast is FACS’s biggest fund-raising event. The organization also sponsors the Archbishop’s Annual Columbus Day Breakfast in New Haven.