Catholic education is of utmost importance to Al Gabriele, a retired businessman and entrepreneur, whose career most recently was in the printing field. A member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Wales, he recently finished chairing a highly successful $25 million capital campaign for La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor.
It took five years instead of the planned four because of the soft economy, but in the end, the campaign came in over goal at $25,051,000 with most of it already in the bank.
Now he’s been appointed to the advisory board of the recently formed archdiocesan Office for Stewardship and Development.
Originally from New Jersey, he came to Philadelphia after attending his parish Catholic school and his graduation from the former Trenton Catholic High School on a scholarship to then-St. Joseph’s College.
He wanted to be an engineer, but that was not offered at St. Joseph’s at the time so he majored in accounting, and it has worked out very well for him.
His life underwent a major crisis 46 years ago when he was in his early 30s and was stricken with a near fatal cancer of the inner ear.
“I almost didn’t make it; my faith helped me survive and it helped my wife (Barbara) to become a convert,” he said. “My faith is my hope.”
He and Barbara, whom he met at his place of employment, raised three children, John, Jim and Gina, and they now have nine grandchildren, thanks to their sons. John and Jim attended La Salle College High School, and that’s how Gabriele initially became involved. “They got a great education there,” he said.
“There is a tremendous attitude of secularization in this country,” Gabriele added, “and Catholic education is critical. We have to give something back to invest in the future. This isn’t like giving a donation to policemen or firemen.
“We are investing in kids who will be the leaders in the future and will have the moral fiber to resist this secularization. They won’t learn that in college or in an office; they have to learn it when they are younger.”
It’s not just private Catholic schools like La Salle that should have a role in this; the parochial schools and diocesan high schools are just as important, he believes.
And part of this, he added, is their role in the inner city, where they attract a number of non-Catholic students who may not have a good home support system.
“If we can pick kids off the street and give them a real education, it’s worth it,” he said, “and the diocese is trying to do that.”
The recent round of school mergers highlights the financial problems that schools have been facing, he believes.
His own parish school at St. Rose of Lima is set to merge with St. Stanislaus School in Lansdale. “Our pastor, Msgr. (Daniel) Murray, wrote a beautiful letter explaining how an operating deficit of $400,000 was unsustainable,” he said. “The diocese is trying to consolidate schools to make them sustainable.”
The real solution down the road, Gabriele added, is doing what was successfully done at La Salle — fundraising to ensure an endowment of the future.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.