Kevin Kelly, O’Dowd’s current Board Chair, credits Catholic education with helping him rise in the world. And he’s committed to making sure the future leaders of Oakland and the East Bay have the education to help them rise, too.
“My father grew up in Irish-Catholic tenements in Brooklyn during the ‘30s and ‘40s,” Kevin recalls. “He went to St. Augustine’s because his education was financed by the parish. Then he went to St. John’s University, in Queens, on a track scholarship.” Catholic education gave Kevin’s father opportunities to climb out of the Brooklyn tenements and into the business world. “If my dad hadn’t had that leg up, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Kevin asserts.
“Catholic schools have a critical emphasis on faith, values, and action. Students are encouraged to learn each other’s stories, and that develops empathy and compassion, and inspires them to be committed to social justice and create a better world.” Kevin Kelly
Kevin’s mother was also educated in Catholic schools, and graduated from Holy Names College. She went on to give early leadership for Families Aid – Catholic Education (FACE) with the Diocese of Oakland, affirming the power of education to transform lives.
For the Kelly family, Catholic education became an important cause. “My dad always intended to give back, and he was able to do it extensively,” Kevin says. As a student, Kevin was strongly influenced by Vatican II. “When I was in school,” Kevin describes, “the emphasis was very clear: preferential option for the poor. We are called to help our brothers and sisters, and to work for equality.”
Kevin sees Catholic education as uniquely values-driven. “Catholic schools are unusual in the level of financial aid they give,” he observes. “Catholic schools have a critical emphasis on faith, values, and action. Students are encouraged to learn each other’s stories, and that develops empathy and compassion, and inspires them to be committed to social justice and create a better world.”
Kevin Kelly and Erin Jaeb chose O’Dowd for their three children, Cormac ’16, Maeve ’18, and Fiona ’21, for its diversity. “When students are in groups with different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, different ethnic and racial experiences, they are enriched,” he says. Each of the Kelly children had different interests. Cormac enjoyed debate, Maeve was involved in running, and now Fiona is an artist. “O’Dowd has great academics, great relationships with teachers, great co-curriculars. All our kids were able to find their own path and have a fantastic experience, and that is an invaluable gift.”
“We tend to shy away from emphasizing joy, but it’s so important. Sports bring joy. Community mass opens up joy and emotional depth. Joy comes with spaces. By building joyful spaces, we create joyful students who become joyful adults.” Kevin Kelly
As Board Chair, Kevin has been a tremendous asset to O’Dowd. When he joined, Kevin inspired the Board to boost their fundraising for the new Center for Environmental Studies, and they ultimately achieved a more ambitious goal. “When our Board gives strongly, it communicates to our whole community how deeply we believe in something,” Kevin says. “It helps create a powerful culture of giving throughout the whole school.”
Now Kevin is involved with the Cor Unum Campaign for the O’Dowd Center, to which the Board has contributed close to $4.5M. Originally O’Dowd’s former president Steve Phelps’ vision, Kevin helped guide the school through the wake of Steve’s passing to keep the campaign alive. The new Center will create a vibrant space for drama, music, sports, teaching, and community gatherings – making O’Dowd a 21st century campus. “The Center will keep our school cutting-edge, modern and strong” Kevin declares. “O’Dowd is literally a shining city on the hill, serving a wide and diverse community across the East Bay. When we grow and thrive, it means our students and future leaders will grow and thrive.”
“And we can’t forget our charism for joy,” Kevin reflects. “We tend to shy away from emphasizing joy, but it’s so important. Sports bring joy. Community mass opens up joy and emotional depth. Joy comes with spaces. By building joyful spaces, we create joyful students who become joyful adults.”
We invite you to join the Cor Unum Campaign for the O’Dowd Center. Your gift will strengthen Catholic education in the East Bay, foster our future leaders, and support a more joy-filled world.
Every gift will be matched 100% by the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation. Click here to learn more and help O’Dowd students rise.