SALEM — Standing high on a lift to bless the new roof at Queen of Peace School here, Father Tim Mockaitis gave thanks to God and to the philanthropist who paid for the project — whoever that may be.
This year, an anonymous donor gave $100,000 to the Salem Catholic Schools Foundation to help Queen of Peace, St. Joseph and St. Vincent de Paul schools fix some seriously leaky roofs. The grant was split three ways.
"The roof that once was holey is now truly holy," Father Mockaitis said to the children below, just before he made a sign of the cross and sprinkled the impervious surface with blessed water. The 140 students, pre-K to grade 5, then filed into the 50-year-old building for an ice cream celebration. They had gone through weeks of workers walking on the roof, making a sound they thought was like thunder.
Before the project, skylights and other sections of the roof leaked steadily. Teachers had to place buckets on the floor and on occasion wet ceiling tiles would sail down onto students. High winds tore off a skylight or two.
"We had bandaged it for so long, the bandages would no longer work," says Debilyn Janota, principal of Queen of Peace. "Having it done helps us concentrate on what we are supposed to be doing — learning."
The project cost $65,000 total, with more than half coming from the secret benefactor. Students from the schools have written stacks of thank-you notes to the donor. Middle man is Kevin Mannix, president of the Salem Catholic Schools Foundation. Founded in 1978, the all-volunteer foundation marshals backers to support local Catholic schools. Mannix, a Salem attorney, would not divulge the name of the contributor, or even give a hint. He did say the foundation is identifying more patrons.
"We are happy to help," Mannix says.
The foundation holds $2.5 million in assets, distributing income annually from investments. Last year, $365,000 went for repairs and improvements at the city's four Catholic schools, including Blanchet Catholic. The foundation is also paying for a music teacher to rotate around the schools. Principals are already working on projections of needs five years into the future.
The foundation also maintains a emergency tuition assistance fund for families who have been hurt financially by serious illness, death of a parent or loss of a job.
Maria Palacio, principal of St. Vincent de Paul School, says the donation was invaluable to the 88-year-old building, which was sustaining water damage.
"That was a blessing," Palacio says. "It's good that there are people out there, anonymous donors who realize the importance of Catholic education and are willing to support us with their funding. Without them we would not to be able to provide the moral and spiritual teaching. We need a roof over our head to do this."