What do the six guys in this photo have in common? If you conclude that they are standing in the Great Hall at Saint John's, it's a good start. But the thread that brought six lives together is an amazing story.
I met John and Rose Lyden ten years ago when I served as a chaplain on a cruise ship to Alaska. They were New Yorkers then, and John had just retired from a career as a specialist and member of the Board of the New York Stock Exchange. Off the coast of Alaska we three became fast friends.
Later, in Naples, FL, John introduced me to Jack Marshall, a friend from college days at Brown University. By then retired, John ran a construction company that had built "clean" buildings literally around the world. We too became friends, and I later presided at his daughter's wedding in Newport, RI.
In time Naples became the primary residence for both John and Jack, and that's when John first broached his bold idea. Saint John's had impressed him with our goal of building an enrollment in which 25% of our students would be the first in their families to attend college. He also had read about the relationship that Saint John's had built with Saint Benedict's Prep in Newark, NJ. Since 2007 over 45 students had come from there to enroll at Saint John's, and the retention rate had been over the top. Could we do the same for guys from Immokalee High School, located outside of Naples? If so, John and Jack wanted to help make that happen.
I give credit to Matt Beirne from the Admissions Office for making it happen. Matt had helped to build similar partnerships elsewhere -- including the one with Saint Benedict's Prep. He knew the need for patience. He knew the importance of earning the trust of families who would be willing to send their children off to a college hundreds of miles from home. Most important, it would be crucial to find the candidates who would flourish at Saint John's.
To his credit Matt's first visit to Immokalee led to a second and a third. There he met with people who had worked to build high school graduation rates and were now beginning to see some of their students head off to college. But would Saint John's be the right place for them?
Matt's efforts paid off in September 2015, when Alex and Jaime enrolled at Saint John's. This fall Osbaldo and Stanley joined them, and Matt is at work recruiting the next cohort. The goal is to have eight students from Immokalee, with two new students stepping into the shoes of graduating seniors.
This September John and Jack made their second trip to Saint John's to visit with "their guys." Now it's more than a matter of giving back to a country that has given so much to them. It's become a labor of love, and they're committed to seeing this project through to completion. "Completion" means funding eight scholarships and building an endowment that will make permanent the relationship between Saint John's and Immokalee High School.
I have to confess that I was bowled over when Jack and John thanked Saint John's for giving them this opportunity. "We should be thanking you!" I responded. But their thanks came with a challenge. Would any alumni be interested in joining them in this effort? John and Jack could only promise this: the reward for the students will be life-changing; but the satisfaction for those who make it possible will be amazing.
[Editor's note: In May 2016 Rose passed away, and John and Jack have named their scholarships in memory of Rose and Joananne. If you would like to join them in sponsoring a student from Immokalee, or in supporting the First-Gen program at Saint John's, please contact Fr. Eric Hollas or one of the Senior Development Officers at Saint John's.]