| Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – It was, as Head of School Dr. Paul Harrington called it, “A great Christmas gift for Pope Francis.”
Just before the close of 2019, an anonymous donor made a gift of $2 million to the Springfield-based Catholic secondary school. The contribution is one of the largest single donations ever received by Pope Francis Preparatory School or its two legacy schools, Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic High Schools. The donor, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has been identified as an alumnus of Cathedral High School who made the gift in appreciation of all the advantages their Cathedral education afforded them over the years.
“It’s created quite a buzz,” Harrington told Reminder Publishing. “It’s a huge gift for any school, college, any nonprofit.
“It was not part of any ongoing [fundraising] campaign,” Harrington added. “I think with that is the sense of wonder on our part that they specifically gave this gift to Pope Francis Prep, to help Pope Francis Prep be sustainable and fulfill our vision for the future.” He added the gift was given to the school without restrictions as to its use.
Harrington explained that because the gift was given to the school without parameters, the money can be used where he and the school’s board of directors feel it will make the most impact. He said the $2 million became the founding donation for the Pope Francis Preparatory School Legacy Fund, which will be maintained by Pope Francis Prep and managed by Merrill Lynch.
“We’re treating it like an endowment,” he explained. “The best practices of endowments are to try and maintain the principal and use the investment income on an annual basis.”
Under this proposed plan, Harrington said he would submit a proposal – most likely on an annual basis – on how he would like to use the investment income, and the board of directors would vote on using those funds as proposed.
“Pope Francis does have other endowments that are invested with the Diocese, [but] the majority are to support financial aid,” Harrington noted. “What is different about this fund is, it is unrestricted, it can help with programming expenses, operating expenses.”
Harrington said the school was first made aware that a gift from this anonymous donor was “a possibility” in the fall, but nothing was formalized until December.
“We really didn’t learn the details, or much about it, until right before Christmas,” he said. Contact came through a foundation, which explained the donor was considering making the gift to “help promote the mission” of the Catholic secondary school. “Something like this [gift], you don’t get a lot of information and it makes it exciting; at the same time with it comes a sense of wonder, and questions,” he said, adding he’s wondered if “they read our [alumni] magazine, followed us on social media, or visited the school on a tour” and that was what convinced them to make the gift.
When the reality of the gift became apparent, he said the school worked with Merrill Lynch to facilitate the transfer of the monies, which took place just before the end of the year.
Harrington noted that because Pope Francis Prep is such a new school – formed by the merger of Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic in 2015 – the $2 million represents an investment that will help sustain the school and further its mission to continue to provide a whole-person, values-based education to its students.
“I really see this as about our efforts to increase enrollment, increase the diversity of our programs and our offerings, and it’s going to allow us to bring Catholic secondary education to the point that people hoped it would return to,” Harrington shared. “As many have said, we’d love to know who [the donor] is, just to give them a hug and say ‘thank you.’”