Full Circle - A Gift Encounter

“Barbara,” came a booming voice from the downtown venue where the Philadelphia Marathon was about to begin. It was 2004, and for Barbara Fitzgerald, the person who called her was Dan Kennedy, a priest, and a 1992 CM alum. But in that moment, she knew none of this. She also didn’t know the impact this person would have on her life years after their first encounter. What she did know was that she, her older brother, and Dan, who her brother had introduced into their running group, were set to run this race…that is until her brother pulled out with an injury. That left Fitzgerald and Kennedy who had never met to complete the 26.2 miles. “He was this 32-year-old, athletic guy with a big split lip, a big voice who was a lot of fun,” she says. Fitzgerald started running as a part of a family initiative to bring them closer after the death of her nephew, a Marine, serving in the Second Gulf War. The encounter with Father Kennedy and the many races the two would run together over the years, became, as Fitzgerald recalls “a gift to our family. He was the kind of guy who could make a difference. Him becoming a priest was his way of helping to lead the church through its tumultuous time of scandal and prove to people that you could be a normal guy and still be a priest.” Then one day, out of nowhere, “I got a call saying Dan had dropped dead of a heart attack,” Fitzgerald recalls. He was 35. The magnitude of his absence was enormous, but his influence would move towards something long-lasting.

Fitzgerald’s son Tim was approaching high school and the decision had been made that if he was going to any all-boys school at all it would be BC High. But when her husband and son expressed interest in CM, Fitzgerald demurred and gave it some consideration. “It was Dan who was really influential. And by the time we had finished the accepted student night, Tim leans over and looks both myself and my husband in the eye and said, ‘I want to go here.’ And so, I said, alright.” During his four years at CM, Fitzgerald characterized her participation as “not uber involved,” calling it “fragmented” due to a small parent network, but Tim’s basketball games, and eventually
his taking part in Speech & Debate drew the Fitzgeralds to show more support and become more interested. “We started donating, and with that we began attending an annual event, which was more of a ‘thank you,’ than say a gala.” As she got to know CM more, and meet more of the board members, she felt more and more comfortable, but still had no idea about what she might be able to contribute. She did know one thing, though, “I knew I Ioved the place. And loved what it was doing for my son,” she says. It wasn’t until her son’s senior year, when at a dinner one evening she decided it was time to get involved. Bumping into Bill Supple ’77, she remembers telling him “How much I really liked the school, and that our son was having a great experience, and that’s when I said, ‘…and if you ever need any help, let me know.’”

Supple did let her know. And in May of 2016, Fitzgerald joined the CM Board. “I was thrilled,” says Fitzgerald. “It came at a point in my life where I could start giving back.” Diving in, Fitzgerald could see that there was a great deal for her to sink her teeth into. Her first couple of years she describes as being dropped into something she had no idea would need so much work, but things at CM were changing fast and for the better. During that
time what is now known as the Kennedy Commons was in the preliminary stages of its renovation. Fitzgerald saw an opportunity to make certain that her great friend and running partner would be remembered at the school he attended. Her family made the lead gift, and she led the fundraising efforts. “It’s amazing to be able to honor Dan with a place that really is the heart and soul of the school. Where boys come to be together, catch-up, and share
meals.” Fitzgerald represents a new era in the history of Catholic Memorial. Along with a new president that arrived in 2014 bringing with him a “vision” as she calls it, Fitzgerald feels part of a group who has made CM competitive, relevant, and sustainable. In 2019, she became the Chair of CM’s Board, and looking back on her
involvement with the school none of it would have happened were it not for that cheeky alum whose calling was to make a difference.