How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Trenton Catholic Academy and Sister Dorothy Payne

Sister Dorothy Payne, the President of Trenton Catholic Academy (TCA) and a humble, compassionate, powerful, fearless leader passed away on February 3, leaving a legacy that must be continued.

A woman of great faith, Sister Dorothy was a true force of nature -- a rough tough cream puff. Ten years ago I worked with her on fundraising to help TCA re-stage the Girls Athletic Association event that was previously held from 1969 until 2002. I got to witness up close and in person Sister Dorothy’s unique ability to interact with both current TCA students and older TCA alumni.

I quickly realized that she was one of those unique individuals who commanded respect across generations without lowering her standards or catering to the times. Sister Dorothy had an authentic aura about her that everyone who came in contact with her felt – some might call it faith. She commanded enormous respect although she did not seek it.

It is well-know that many Catholic schools teeter on the brink of economic survival and that TCA has managed to stay afloat because of the substantial sustained support of the Diocese of Trenton. The vast majority of the families of the students that attend TCA can not afford the full-tuition required to keep TCA open (current annual tuition for the lower school with 315 students is $6,200 and $10,500 for the upper school with 207 enrollees). This is incredibly low when compared to other 8-12 private schools where costs range from $17,686 to $38,900. TCA remains open because many individuals and companies provide considerable financial support and scholarship assistance. The school struggles to offer market competitive salaries and maintain its 10 to 1 student/teacher ratio and keep up an aging but incredible well-maintained building where the floors sparkle.

Each year Sister Dorothy would somehow manage to piece together just enough funds to keep the school afloat through the generosity of a cadre of individual donors and the sustained generous support of the Diocese.

TCA was not going to have the same fate as St. Anthony’s High School, of Jersey City, which closed last year in spite of having a national reputation for producing NBA stars without even having its own gym. During her tenure in TCA Sister Dorothy was able to do what legendary high school coach and St. Anthony’s School President Bob Hurley could not do for his school, because of the consistent very generous support of the Diocese of Trenton.

Sister Dorothy knew that without a “safe haven” like TCA, there were kids who would not have the opportunity to be all they could be, that ran contrary to everything she believed. She recognized, because she he had seen it over and over again, that if you provide a youngster -- no matter the color of their skin or their financial circumstances -- with educational opportunity in an orderly nurturing supportive challenging environment, they can succeed beyond your wildest dreams. One hundred percent of TCA student’s graduate and 98 percent go on to college. There are literally hundreds of youngsters, the majority of whom are from the City of Trenton, who have gone to college and triumphed over their circumstances because of TCA.

The esteem and respect that TCA and larger community had for Sister Dorothy was visible at the February 13th Memorial Mass held in her honor at TCA. Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, and TCA school chaplain, served as principal celebrant of the Mass. Another 10 priests were present to concelebrate. In his comments Michael Knowles, who was recently named as President of TCA, said that “TCA students meant everything to Sister Dorothy” and she was “ferociously proud of her students” and “was not satisfied by mediocrity.”

TCA is one of Mercer County’s most cherished institutions. It is changing lives. TCA does exactly what we want our public schools to do – provide a thorough and efficient quality education to all the children who come through its doors no matter what their situation or circumstances.

On behalf of the community-at-large, I want to applaud the Diocese of Trenton for their consistent substantial sustaining support of TCA.