The Shungu Family Scholarship

Gael Shungu, pictured here with his SFX classmates and with his mom Cecile when he received his MBA, recently made a wonderful gift to the school. This gift came soon after another amazing donation. Below is the story of those gifts:

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A Tale of Two Gifts

By Robin McCormick

Saint Francis Xavier School Development Office

Ellen Kane’s call left me speechless (a rare occurrence) and in tears (not quite as rare).

Ellen is the director of the Vermont Catholic Community Foundation (VCCF), which supports Catholic ministries and charitable causes throughout Vermont. A couple had approached her to set up an endowment fund within VCCF to aid students at Saint Francis Xavier School. I was thrilled. Then she told me the amount -- $133,000. That’s when I went silent and the tears started. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

This wonderful couple has asked to remain anonymous. They have supported our school for years with regular donations and help with special projects. They graduated from Saint Francis Xavier School decades ago. I would love to say that their remarkable gift was the result of some brilliant advice from our Development Office, but not so. It came entirely from their own determination to find a way to help future generations of Catholic students and their families.

I called to thank them (trying not to cry) and ask what prompted this step. They told me: “We have a gem in Saint Francis Xavier School and it’s worth protecting. We know what it offers students and their families. We also know it can be a challenge for young families today to afford a Catholic education. There are so many financial demands on them. We want to help make school affordable for those families.

We’ve been blessed in our own lives. We know success is not always just about being smart or working hard -- sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time. We’ve had that happen and we want to share our good fortune with others.”

Less than two weeks later, Gael Shungu called me from Boston. I have known Gael since he was a little boy -- brand new to Vermont and to Saint Francis. Gael was born in Niger and came to the US when his family was driven from their home by political unrest and violence. He’s 30 now. He was a classmate and teammate of my children. I’ve watched him grow and prosper over the years. I’ve been proud of him for his great determination, his joyous spirit, and his generous heart.

I expected Gael to tell me he was coming for a visit. Instead, he told me he had gotten a big promotion. He wanted to fulfill a promise he had made to himself when he was a boy -- he wanted to start giving back to help others just as he had been helped. He was going to start by donating $1,000 for a scholarship to help first generation Americans at SFX, kids just like him and his siblings. He knows these students sometimes face extra challenges and obstacles and he wants to help them. Gael said his hope was that this would be the first installment of ongoing scholarships -- the Shungu Family Scholarship Fund. He said his mother, Cecile, was thrilled he was doing this. I know Cecile. She has worked heroically for her children and she deserves to be proud.

Of course, I cried.

On the surface, these donors may seem quite different. An anonymous couple, lifelong Vermonters, living in a small town, now of retirement age. Gael, born on a different continent, living in a bustling city, and, at age 30, just setting off on his journey in life. But their similarities are so much greater than their apparent differences: gratitude for the blessings they’ve received, a desire to give back and help others, a tremendous generosity of spirit.

And, yes, they both filled my heart with gratitude and they both made me cry.

Donate today to help other students just like Gael achieve their dreams!