Million-plus dollars gets school fundraising campaign off to good start

NEWFIELD – Nothing lends oomph to a fundraising effort like a surprise million-dollar donation, especially coming just before the campaign officially is underway.

Our Lady of Mercy Academy understandably is upbeat at just such a $1 million gift from Mount Laurel businesswoman Rose Marie Davis. Her charitable chips are on top of $100,000 from an OLMA graduate, Dana Kazan Catalana and her husband Carmine.

“We’ve never had anything like that,” said Brooke Coyle, the academy’s Head of School. In fact, this capital campaign is its first one.

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Who gave OLMA $1 million?

OLMA disclosed the two donations at a Jan. 30 event. A girls-only school, OLMA draws on families around the state for enrollment and its student population doubled in the last seven years to 220.

Coyle said Davis had never been to the academy before last spring when she came with Dana Catalana.

Our Lady of Mercy Academy rolled out publicly its Vision 2025 & Beyond capital campaign at a Jan. 30 event at the Newfield school. Already, $1.1 million is pledged thanks to a $1 million gift from Mt. Laurel businesswoman Rose Marie Davis and $100,000 from academy graduate Dana Kazan Catalana and her husband Carmine. Here, left to right, are Sophia Sacco, Morgan Edwards, Madeline Brown, Davis, Dana Kazan Catalana, and Carmine Catalana. PHOTO: Jan. 30, 2023

Davis is a longtime benefactor and board member at St. Augustine Preparatory School, in nearby Buena Vista Township. The two women got to know each other while on the Prep’s board.

Coyle, who previously worked at St. Augustine, said Davis had a second meeting with her late last fall.

“And she said she wanted to give a gift,” Coyle said. “And she told me what it was going to be. And there were tears. Again, really not expecting something of that magnitude. And for a place like OLMA, I mean, that’s a transformative gift.”

OLMA to use cash gift to defray tuition, finish leadership center

The $1 million will partially go toward tuition assistance. This year, tuition is $12,900. Next year, it will be $14,250.

The second use for the Davis gift is to complete transformation of an area that once held a pool into a center concentrating on lessons on leadership. The pool was filled during summer 2022 and now shows only as a concrete slab.

“So, that area is going to be 'finished’ finished,” Coyle said. “We’re working on conceptuals right now, so I don’t have all the details. But it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Post-COVID, academy attention raised on growth, offerings

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a block into the academy’s growth plans. As the pandemic counter-measures have receded, OLMA started to look at what it needed to do. And that is where its Vision 2025 & Beyond capital campaign fits.

“We’re going down uncharted waters,” Coyle said. “But we’re excited about it, because it’s what we preach. ‘You have to try things that are difficult and challenging and uncomfortable. And that’s where you grow.’ So, we’re taking our own language and applying it our decisions.

“This million-dollar gift, kind of, conversation started last spring but not having any idea that the gift would be of this magnitude,” she said. “So, it really fast forwarded our planning to allow us to kick off the campaign.”

The campaign also hopes to underwrite modernization of science laboratories and art room and installation of a turf athletic field.

“I know we are beginning an unprecedented journey that will shape Our Lady of Academy for generations,” Dana Catalana said.

Joe Smith is a N.E. Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago, keeping an eye now on government in South Jersey. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.

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This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: 2 gifts give $1.1 M to academy's first capital-raising campaign