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BOSTON -- On April 15, the Catholic Schools Foundation held its 31st Annual Inner-City Scholarship Fund (ICSF) Gala in a virtual format, raising nearly $4 million for student scholarships and honoring the accomplishments of the archdiocese's Catholic school teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ICSF gala is the largest single fundraiser of the Catholic Schools Foundation, which annually raises and distributes over $10 million in scholarship and programmatic aid for over 4,000 students from low-income families. This was the second year in a row that the event was held virtually due to the pandemic.
WCVB-TV Channel 5 anchor Ben Simmoneau served as master of ceremonies. It was his fifth year hosting the event, and WCVB has supported the event for over three decades. The celebration was chaired this year by Ron O'Hanley, chairman and chief executive officer of State Street Corporation.
In his welcoming remarks, O'Hanley announced the establishment of the Impact Fund to further assist scholarship recipients' families as they face additional emergencies and financial hardships caused by the pandemic or, in the future, by other unforeseen crises. Viewers were encouraged to donate to this fund during the virtual celebration. By the end of the half-hour program, the Impact Fund had surpassed its $100,000 fundraising goal.
"Regardless of size, your gift will help ensure the financial stability of our most in-need students and families during the greatest time of need," O'Hanley said.
The virtual event featured interviews with scholarship recipients, teachers, and administrators from two schools in Lynn -- Sacred Heart School and St. Mary's High School. Lynn, as Simmoneau noted, was "one of the cities that was hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic." Despite this, the two schools, along with St. Pius V School, remained open for live instruction throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, only closing for one snow day.
"I really appreciate that the school was able to do everything that they could in order for us to return this year," a St. Mary's senior named Alia said in the video.
Peter Lynch, president emeritus of the Catholic Schools Foundation, joined the program to present the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award. This annual award recognizes people and organizations that have made a transformative difference in the lives of CSF scholarship recipients. This year, the award was given to the over 3,000 teachers serving the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston, honoring their leadership during the pandemic.
Accepting the award on behalf of the teachers was Liz Pilla, chair of the social studies department at Fontbonne Academy in Milton. She has taught in Catholic schools for 23 years, and last year she headed a task force that planned the reopening of her school after switching to virtual instruction at the end of the previous academic year.
"During this terrible pandemic, Catholic schools led the way in making sure learning continued for their students, and that teacher-student relationships were maintained," Pilla said.
She said Catholic educators see their work "as a vocation and as part of a larger Catholic community mission."
"Our first duty is always to our students. We approach teaching in a holistic way, blending academic excellence with crucial social-emotional support. Catholic school teachers can be proud of their accomplishments in keeping dynamic teaching and learning happening so successfully," she said.
Simmoneau also congratulated the thousands of teachers.
"You are truly heroes and have gone above and beyond for your students. From all of us, thank you for all that you do," he said.
The program included a montage of pictures and videos of students thanking their teachers, sometimes holding up signs or drawings dedicated to them.
"We're privileged to be able to support them and the families they serve as they do the real work of building minds and changing lives," Michael Reardon, executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, said in his closing remarks.
O'Hanley agreed and added, "For every student we saw or heard from tonight, there are thousands more with a similar message of thanks and gratitude for their teachers."
"Our teachers are truly the foundation of these great schools, and that foundation has been stronger than ever during the past year," O'Hanley said.
Immediately following the program, WCVB Channel 5 aired an episode of "Chronicle" about the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Links to the 31st Annual Inner-City Scholarship Fund Celebration video as well as the "Chronicle" feature can be found at www.csfboston.org/celebration. Donations to the Catholic Schools Foundation Impact Fund can be made at csfboston.org/csf-impact-fund.