Charity begins at home — and goes viral

The Internet is perhaps the most consequential tool of the modern age. It has connected everyone with a router or Wi-Fi connection to a realm of information that grows exponentially every day. In the hands of educators, the web untaps the flow of knowledge about history, religion, politics, art, math, and science in ways that encyclopedias and blackboards never could. In our diocesan schools the potential of this connectivity is about to be enhanced due to the ingenuity of our school leaders and the generosity and vision of a singular donor.

Jack Dawley and his wife Susan, along with the blessing of his three children, have fashioned a gift of more than $550,000 which is directed towards significantly upgrading our schools Wi-Fi capability. This gift, along with matching funds from the federal government, will propel our schools to begin using a “blended learning” approach in revised curriculums. This means source material for projects and units from the first grade up to senior year of high school will have access to a fast and reliable Internet.

What are the roots of this vision to help our schools? Not surprisingly they began with a mother’s love and a strong faith. Jack Dawley was born and raised in Melrose, the fifth of eight children of James and Mary Dawley. When he was 10 years old his father was killed in an industrial accident, leaving his mother to raise all eight through the midst of the Depression and World War II. Jack attended BC High and then Boston College, becoming a “Double Eagle” just in time to enroll in the Navy and serve two years in Korea as a lieutenant. 

Upon his return from service Jack began a career at General Electric that spanned 16 years and saw increasing levels of responsibility and management leadership. In 1958, he married Susan, a school teacher who to this day retains a love of the classroom. Together they raised three children: Elizabeth, Ellen, and John. 

Throughout the next three decades Jack built a career in industry and telecommunications that saw the family move to five states and ultimately retire in Atlanta after a merger between Con-tel and GTE in 1995.

Through those years Jack maintained contact with his beloved Boston College, and as his success grew, so did his generous response to his high school and college. The Dawleys established named scholarships at both institutions. In part, this loyalty and support was engendered by their respect for the values and rigor that each institution emphasized. His mother’s faith, strength, and piety were reflected in the way he approached his philanthropy.

Always faith filled, two of his younger sisters are nuns, Jack and Susan have turned towards the Church for ways to continue to make a difference.

“I decided two years ago to increase my contribution to the Catholic Charities Appeal substantially. Partially, I wanted to see if anybody noticed.” We did. “I did the same thing in the Diocese of Venice and they noticed, too. Once I met with Bishop da Cunha, I immediately sensed that he was a good listener. He had a definite vision of how to reinvigorate our schools and parishes but knew that he had to involve the laity. I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church gets enough credit in the wider world for all the good we do. The mission work, the care and feeding of the poor both within our own communities and around the world is enormous. In my eyes, religion and education are the keys to unlocking potential in others.” 

The Foundation to Advance Catholic Education has been primarily focused on securing funds to help families afford elementary and high school tuition costs. Now, however, a new focus has emerged through the efforts of the bishop’s Task Force on Education. “We want our schools to be both affordable and market competitive in terms of curriculum, technology, and innovation,” said Steve Perla, the superintendent of schools for the diocese.

Jack and Susan met with Bishop da Cunha in September of last year and expressed a willingness to help but wanted specific project ideas not related to scholarships. 

“When we met again in Florida this past winter the bishop presented me with a solid plan to improve our schools through the implementation of a Wi-Fi improvement that had the added benefit of leveraging federal dollars of which we are entitled to achieve the goal. Once I read the proposal and digested it, we discussed it within our family and decided to fund it completely. I was impressed at the degree of detail and specificity that was included in the proposal.

“I think our Church needs those of us who have some means to step up. If technology is not your passion, perhaps scholarship, or Sacramental preparation, or youth, or soup kitchens, or homelessness. Our Church touches all those areas and more. If we could increase our giving 10 percent a year, in seven years it would double. Think about how much good we could be doing if that happened,” said Jack. 

The Dawley family has enabled our students to reach beyond for the tools they will need in the future. The roots of this generosity began in a home marked by tragedy but defined by hard work, perseverance, and charity suffused with faith. May they long know our gratitude for their gift and their vision.

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

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