May 7, 2014

Annual gala celebrates, supports Pittsfield’s Catholic Schools



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

PITTSFIELD – Celebrating and supporting Pittsfield Catholic schools, nearly 300 gathered at the Crowne Plaza hotel here May 2 for an awards banquet that raised approximately $100,000.

The fourth annual Evening With the Stars Gala supports both St. Joseph Central High School and St. Mark Elementary School.

“There’s a group of us who are absolutely committed to preserving the legacy that the schools represent and the opportunity that they provide to families,” said Bill Jones, chair of the Pittsfield Catholic Schools Board of Directors.

“In tough economic times, families are struggling,” Jones told iobserve. “We need to find ways to bring as much support as we can to the community.” Jones and his wife, Lisa, sent all four of their children to the Pittsfield Catholic schools.

“These are terrific schools,” he said. “In addition to a quality educational curriculum, we teach values and leadership and respect and character.”

The annual dinner also gives the schools the chance to celebrate Catholic schools and trumpet the accomplishments of their alumni members. Honorees were recognized for their “community service, faith, leadership, regional or global impact and their professional service.”

Eleven Catholic school supporters were honored, one posthumously, with the Evening With the Stars Award, becoming members of the Catholic Schools of Pittsfield Hall of Fame.

One of those 11, Sister of St. Joseph Cecilia James, taught in Pittsfield at St. Joseph Central high School beginning in 1958. In 1968, she traveled to Africa, serving as a missionary there for 10 years. She then returned to Pittsfield and taught in the former Notre Dame Middle School for 15 more years.

Sister Cecilia (who said that she is also known as “Smiley”) told iobserve that she was “totally surprised” to learn that she was chosen to be honored. She said she didn’t feel that she deserved the award but that she accepted it on behalf of her religious community. “All the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught here, I represent them,” she said.

At 92 years old, she said she was happy to be honored with so many others whom she knew. “Many of them I had in school,” she said, flashing her trademark smile. “It’s a great night for me to see all my children.”

When a reporter asked her what she taught, she answered quickly. “When people ask me what I teach, I never say history or Latin, I say I taught children.” In remarks to the audience, she said “I’m 92, I’ve lost many teeth, but I’m still smiling.”

George Horton, another honoree, was all smiles the night of the dinner as well.

Horton attended the former St. Mary Elementary School in Pittsfield and is a member of St. Joseph’s Class of 1963. He is the director of the Archdiocese of New York’s Catholic Charities Department of Social and Community Development.

“I think about the foundation that I received with Catholic education,” Horton told iobserve, “that somehow our love of God is tied tightly to our love of neighbor.” Horton said that it felt “wonderful” to be recognized.

“I’m very grateful for my Catholic education,” he said. “I was thinking about the values of faith and community that were instilled in us. And, in many ways in society, those values are threatened … faith is disappearing for many people. Catholic education is there to keep those values in front of people,” Horton said. “A society can’t survive without those values.”

The other honorees were, William Archey, Class of 1960; Dr. Elizabeth Blazick, Class of 1994; Eleanor Brazeau, Class of 1947 (honored posthumously); Matthew Collins, Class of 1978; Donald Coudert, Class of 1966; Father Peter Gregory, Class of 1958; John “Jack” J. Martin Sr., Class of 1951; Carmen Massimiano; David O’Brien, Class of 1956

For a video version of this story, tune in to an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.