By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Christmas came early for 100 children who, before Thanksgiving, could only have dreamed about attending a Catholic elementary school in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Their Christmas miracle came in the form of a $750,000 scholarship bequest from the late Robert C. Dunn of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr.

The bequest has since been packaged into the BLOCS Bright Futures Scholarship Fund, awarding 100 children two-year scholarships to Catholic schools in Philadelphia and its inner-ring suburbs. {{more}}

The new program, courtesy of Dunn, provides scholarship funding to underprivileged children who always wanted to attend Catholic school but were unable to afford the tuition. Through the program, the students can immediately enroll in a high performing Catholic school of their choice.

This year and next year, BLOCS is committing $130,000 in its own fundraising to the program.

The program also aims to connect each student with a sponsor, business leader or philanthropist who will financially assist the student for the remainder of the child’s Catholic school career.

The BLOCS Bright Futures Scholarship Fund was officially launched Nov. 24 at Roman Catholic High School for Boys in Center City Philadelphia.

Attending St. Dominic School in Northeast Philadelphia is the Christmas dream come true for brother and sister Joshua, 12, and Zephaniah, 9, Sainta (pronounced Santa), who since November have been enrolled there in the seventh and fourth grades, respectively.

Their tuition at St. Dominic School is $4,974. Because of the $1,000 scholarship each student received, and the pro-rated tuition rate for enrolling at St. Dominic three months into the school year, Pierre and Nicole Sainta will pay a total of $750 in tuition for their two children — $375 per child — for the remainder of the school year.

The Saintas registered their children at St. Dominic School over the summer, but after crunching numbers in their family budget, determined they would not be able to send them to the school. Until this past November, Joshua and Zephaniah had attended a nearby Philadelphia public school.

Pierre Sainta, a school bus driver, has been unemployed since 2008. Nicole Sainta is pursuing a nursing degree at Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia and is scheduled to graduate in the spring. In the meantime, she is also juggling a part-time job to help pay for their children’s tuition.

The scholarship is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving, according to Nicole Sainta. “We consider the scholarship a blessing, a present for every holiday,” she said. “When we learned we would be receiving the scholarship, it really brought joy to everyone in the family.”

The news arrived via a telephone call Nov. 4. A secretary at St. Dominic School asked the Saintas if they were still interested in sending Joshua and Zephaniah to the school.

Five days later, on Nov. 9, the Sainta children were sitting in their desks at St. Dominic School.

Joshua recalled watching his mother’s reaction as she answered the telephone call. “Once I saw her face light up, I asked, ‘What is it?’”

And when she told him the news, “I was thrilled,” Joshua said.

“We are really grateful they are attending St. Dominic School and receiving a good, Catholic, education,” Nicole Sainta said. “Without the scholarship, they would never have attended St. Dominic’s this year,” or maybe ever, she added.

Joshua and Zephaniah give their new school a high grade.

“Things are more challenging here and we can reach a higher potential,” Joshua Sainta said. “It’s not the same as our old school. I like St. Dominic’s better.”

At St. Dominic’s, there are more math formulas to learn, English words to memorize and, overall, more homework and more tests, he said.

“It’s a nice environment, it’s a learning environment. A lot of people are friendly. The principal and teachers are very nice but strict on discipline and things like that. It’s a great place to be,” he added.

Joshua’s favorite subject is social studies. He hopes to play the piano in the school’s upcoming Christmas concert. Zephaniah’s favorite subject is math. She is going to join the school choir.

“St. Dominic’s has harder subjects and programs, less recess and playing times so we can be learning more,” Zephaniah said. “I like that a lot because later on in life, that additional knowledge can help us.

“At St. Dominic’s, I feel like my potential has been expanded and I love it. They teach us more and when we don’t understand something, they guide us.”

The scholarship, she said, restored the hope that was abruptly dashed in late August. “I do feel like it’s a Christmas miracle,” Zephaniah said.

More than 50 scholarship recipients, Catholic elementary school principals, parents and program supporters attended the announcement at Roman Catholic High.

“In many Philadelphia neighborhoods, local Catholic schools are an educational oasis and provide a safe and strong alternative to other academic institutions,” said Joe Garecht, executive director of BLOCS.

“Many parents dream of providing their children with a Catholic education, but for a lot of families, this dream is financially out of reach. Through the generosity of Mr. Dunn, and the goodwill of our donors and supporters, we were able to establish the BLOCS Bright Futures Scholarship Fund and start enrolling students who always wanted a Catholic education into the parochial school of their choice.”

Dunn, an alumnus of St. Leonard’s Academy in West Philadelphia and a small business contractor, died Aug. 22, 2009, at age 90.

“Mr. Robert Dunn will never know the joy and relief he has provided to many families with his recent bequest to support Catholic education,” said Mary Rochford, the archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools.

“We hope, as he watches over us from his heavenly home, he sees the many thankful hearts that are thinking of him.”

In addition to the BLOCS donation, Dunn bequeathed money to the Catholic Charities Appeal of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and established scholarship funds at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill and Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, both in Delaware County, and at Villanova University.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or

BLOCS Bright Futures Scholarship Fund Schools:

Annunciation B.V.M. Catholic School, South Philadelphia

St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic School, Lansdowne, Delaware County

St. Dominic Catholic School, Northeast Philadelphia

Holy Child Catholic School, Manayunk section of Philadelphia

St. Martin De Porres Catholic School, North Philadelphia

Our Lady of Confidence Catholic School, Northeast Philadelphia

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, Overbrook section of Philadelphia

Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School, West Philadelphia

St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School, Fishtown section of Philadelphia

St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, West Philadelphia

Visitation B.V.M. Catholic School, Kensington section of Philadelphia

Visitation B.V.M. Catholic School, Norristown, Montgomery County

St. William Catholic School, Northeast Philadelphia