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October 31, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 27
 

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photo: Chuck McPhillips is congratulated by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo as he presents him with the Humanitarian Award. At the left is his wife, Theresa. (Photo by Saint Patrick Catholic School)Chuck McPhillips receives Humanitarian award of CCEV

Almost every Friday morning at 9 Chuck McPhillips sits at his desk in his Norfolk law office and meets via Skype with Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and three other diocesan officials who are in an office 100 miles away at the Pastoral Center in Richmond. The meetings focus on a plan to make Catholic schools more affordable for families and thereby boost enrollment.

“It’s a priority,” Mr. McPhillips told The Catholic Virginian the day before he received the Humanitarian Award of Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia at a luncheon Oct. 20 at the Waterside Marriott in Norfolk to honor him for the role he has played as a community leader. He is the chairman of the diocese’s McMahon Parater Foundation which seeks additional funding for tuition assistance for Catholic schools.

“It keeps us on target for what we’re going to do,” he said of the Friday morning meetings which also include Michael McGee, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese; Annette Parsons, Chief Education Administrator of the Office of Catholic Education, and Margaret Keightley, executive director of advancement for McMahon Parater.

A native of Norfolk, Mr. McPhillips is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the grandson of Irish immigrants on his father’s side. His grandfather, Joseph McPhillips, was from Killeeven in County Monahan, and his grandmother, Sarah Finn, grew up in the small town of Blackwatertown in County Armagh. They were married in Belfast and came to the United States separately after about a year. They eventually settled in Norfolk.

“My father was one of six and we were a large Irish clan,” Mr. McPhillips said. “My two brothers and sister and I all went to Blessed Sacrament School.”

But he did not attend Catholic high school, he is quick to point out. Instead he attended Norfolk Academy from which he graduated in 1978 and then went to Hampden-Sydney College, a Presbyterian institution, where he graduated in 1982. The connection to the two non-Catholic schools indirectly had an impact on his life.

“I was a freshman at Hampden-Sydney when Norfolk Academy’s legendary headmaster J.B. Massey retired and then moved to Hampden-Sydney.”

The retired headmaster of Norfolk Academy commanded a strict sense of discipline. Mr. McPhillips admitted that he sometimes needed that discipline. He recalls a meeting he had with Mr. Massey while at the private school.

“He looked me straight in the eye and said ‘Chuck, I expected more of you. Think about it.’

“Well, I did think about it,” Mr. McPhillips said. “From that moment on, I resolved to expect more of myself. It is a standard I too often failed to achieve, but nonetheless I return to it as often as I can.”

He was asked what motivates him to be so involved now in Catholic schools.

“I’m chairman of the James Barry-Robinson Home for Boys Trust and am privileged to have been the founding chairman of Saint Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk of which I am still a member,” he said.

“It’s inspiring for me to see the Bishop’s personal commitment to securing the future of Catholic schools,” he continued. “I couldn’t even contemplate saying no to the request that I lead the McMahon Parater campaign.”

But with a wry smile, he said “Catholic guilt” has often motivated him to take the paths he has chosen.

“My church attendance has improved dramatically since my high school days and especially since being married to my bride of 20 years, Theresa,” Mr. McPhillips said.

The two met after he had graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1985 and she had graduated from Hollins College.

“We were not blessed with children, but as founding chairman of Saint Patrick Catholic School, I have often claimed all 390-plus children as my own,” he said. “I know a lot of them and I make a point to know all the 8th graders.”

Each year the 8th grade class hosts the Servant Leadership Awards dinner at which they honor an individual from local parishes (Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart and Blessed Sacrament) and one or two “friends of other Christian faith communities” which represent non-Catholic students. Awards are presented to individuals whose profiles are written by faculty members who deliberately do not give names with each profile. The students then select the honorees.

“These are not celebrities,” Mr. McPhillips said of those receiving the awards. “These are very humble and quiet loving people who exhibit the traits that qualify them as servant leaders.

“I enjoy working with them,” Mr. McPhillips said of the students. “These 8th graders get to meet these individuals who might run a soup kitchen or serve faithfully in some way like helping the homeless.”

Money the 8th grade students raise from the dinner as well as tips they get from patrons in serving the meal has paid for four Stations of the Cross which are on the school’s campus lawn. A different station has been added each year since the annual dinner was organized.

Deeply touched by the Humanitarian Award presented to him by Bishop DiLorenzo, Mr. McPhillips says he will continue to work for the future of Catholic schools.

“It brings an amazing amount of joy to my life because of what education means to the future of our communities,” he said.

“I am inspired by Bishop DiLorenzo’s leadership and the generosity of individuals who share a belief in the crucial value of Catholic education.

“We have arrested the decline of enrollment and we are on the cusp — with a little more help — of increasing the enrollment.”

He emphasized that facts show that Catholic school graduates are more active in the life of the Church as adults, that they emphasize the importance of prayer, and they foster an openness to the possibility of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“You really have no choice but to support Catholic education,” Mr. McPhillips said. “I pray leaders will rise to this historic moment and answer the challenge to preserve and strengthen the greatest educational tradition in this country — our Catholic schools.”

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