Thanksgiving: A time of hope and opportunity

As we approach the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, I would like to share some examples of how our diocese has benefitted from some extraordinary generosity. As many of you know, our bishop has accepted the recommendations of an Education Task Force which he created soon after his arrival. The Task Force was engaged for more than a year and reviewed reams of data on the current state of our elementary schools and high schools as well as comparative data from other Catholic school districts from around the country. 

The Task Force was comprised of clergy and lay leaders from throughout the diocese. They are all to be commended for the many hours of work and study that went into their conclusions. The driving force behind this effort was a gift offered by the Carney Family Foundation to fund the cost of the study. Patrick and Lillian Carney are long-time benefactors of many Catholic causes in the New Bedford area. Upon the installation of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., they asked for and received a meeting with him to express their willingness to help in whatever ways he needed. Out of those conversations came a plan to provide funding for the Education Task Force.

Fast forward to this past September. The Task Force report is completed and a road map for the future is agreed upon. Now comes the hard part, implementation of changes designed to improve curriculum, professional development and enrollment management issues. Once again the Carney Family Foundation was there to assist. This time with a visionary and dramatic offer to “jump-start” the implementation with an extraordinary gift and a challenge. 

The Carney Family offered the diocese a gift of $1 million and asked the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education Board to match that amount from our foundation resources to create a pool of $2 million that would be earmarked for a three-year period to be used for two purposes. All of the Carney Family gift will be directed to fund full-need scholarships for poor children who could otherwise not afford a Catholic education. The rest of the money will be devoted to additional scholarships and to invigorate our ability to increase awareness and marketing so that more families will consider a Catholic school. 

We are exceedingly grateful to the Carney Family for their foresight. We are calling this three-year effort our Hope and Opportunity Initiative. While we are certainly proud of the education we currently provide the more than 6,000 students attending our schools, we know there are obstacles that keep some from attending. Family resources are often stretched to the breaking point. We want to provide the hope and the opportunity of a solid Spiritually-based, value-laden education for all who wish it for their sons and daughters. 

Pat and Lillian Carney have set a standard for their children to emulate based upon an unshakable ethic of gratitude for all they have achieved and a deep devotion to service. Lillian has served on many charitable organizations over the years and still serves her undergraduate college, the College of New Rochelle, as a board member. Pat has served on the board of Boston College and has devoted many hours to Bishop Stang and his elementary school, Holy Family in New Bedford.

When you ask Pat about his motivation to provide such substantial support he replies with genuine humility: “I am very grateful for my Catholic education and want poor children to have the same opportunity I was afforded.”

All five of the Carney siblings are involved in foundation decisions. Patrick, Kate, Coleen, Michael and Ned have all benefitted from the example their parents set of lifelong community service and devotion to their Catholic faith. The Mission Statement of the foundation reads as follows: 

 The Carney Family Charitable Foundation seeks to strengthen the communities and institutions that have nurtured our family members and touched our lives. Concentrating our efforts on Greater New Bedford, the foundation works to: 

— Promote and increase access to quality education with a special emphasis on Catholic education; 
— Promote positive change in people’s lives through community wellness; and 
— Invest in system-level change. 

In the months and years to come I am certain that many others will join the Carney Family in helping Bishop da Cunha bring about a revitalization of our parishes and schools. For now we offer our thanks in this season of thanksgiving for their actions rooted in faith and animated by love to bring hope and opportunity to many.  To their charitable spirit and that of everyone who donates to FACE, I commend this quote from Pope Francis: “The education of children is such an important task in forming them as free and responsible human beings. It affirms their dignity as an unalienable gift that follows from our original Creation as children made in the image and likeness of God. And because education truly forms human beings, it is especially the duty and responsibility of the Church, who is called to serve mankind from the heart of God and in such a way that no other institution can.”

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office; Catholic Charities Appeal; Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

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