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April 14, 2011

Nearly $500,000 Raised at 50th Annual Charter Award Dinner

Robert Catell (formerly of National Grid) & Michael 'Buzzy' O'Keeffe (The River Café) Honored by St. Francis

A combination of Brooklyn's business elite, celebrity chef David Burke, top students and a collection of generous friends and family of St. Francis College came together to raise $485,000 at the 50th Annual Charter Award Dinner on April 14 at the New York Marriott Marquis.

The guest of honor were two of Brooklyn's most successful native sons, Robert Catell (former Chairman, National Grid, U.S.) and Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe (The River Café), who were awarded honorary degrees for their lifelong service and contributions to the Brooklyn community.

The night began with a welcome from St. Francis College's Chairman of the Board of Trustees John F. Tully '67 who announced that every dollar raised on the night will go directly to fund student scholarships. Those scholarships insure that deserving students who otherwise could not afford a quality, private education can still attend St. Francis. (Watch the entire event)

St. Francis Philosophy and Religion Professor Brother Owen Sadlier then delivered the opening convocation while student Josefina Sola offered a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After a proclamation for the honorees from New York State Senator Marty Golden, St. Francis College President Brendan J. Dugan '68 introduced a video highlighting five students from the college and brought them out on stage. (Watch the video)

Speaking on behalf of the students, sophomore Cindy Luz Hernandez '14 told the audience about her journey to St. Francis. Cindy suffers from Lupus, which was misdiagnosed for several years, leading to neurological issues that forced her to relearn how to walk and talk as a teenager; ultimately she received a kidney transplant from her mother. Through it all, she not only caught up on her studies but excelled, earning an academic scholarship to St. Francis where she is on a pre-Med track with hopes of becoming a pediatrician. Cindy said she felt a spiritual connection when she first visited St. Francis and the bond has only strengthened, "As long as I have been a part of the St. Francis Community, I've also felt as if I was part of an extended family."

Ken Daly '88, recently promoted to National Grid President, New York, introduced the night's first honoree, Robert Catell, who previously served as the Chairman of National Grid, US and spoke about the long and strong relationship between St. Francis College and the energy company. More than 100 St. Francis alumni have gone on to work at National Grid and its previous incarnations of KeySpan and Brooklyn Union Gas.

"Having walked the halls of the College, I can say confidently, that St. Francis is equipping students with skills for a lifetime – integrity, hard-work and commitment to excellence," said Mr. Catell. "There is no surprise why the school has been a feeder to Brooklyn Union, KeySpan, and now National Grid and other corporations in the New York City area."

Mr. Catell is currently Chairman of Alberta Northeast Gas Ltd. and a member of the board of directors of Keyera Energy Management Ltd. In addition to his corporate work, he is also the Chair of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR), and serves the Cristo Rey Network's Lourdes Academy and Futures in Education Endowment Fund

Celebrity chef, entrepreneur and author David Burke (David Burke Townhouse, David Burke Kitchen) introduced the second honoree, Mr. O'Keeffe, who gave David his start as Chef at The River Café and who he credits with instilling in him confidence, discipline and pride.

Buzzy, who in 1977 opened New York's first waterfront restaurant, The River Café, is also responsible for New York culinary landmarks, The Café at Grand Central and Pershing Square Café. "I employed two students that were both 4.0 students going into college who could have gone anywhere in the country, but they choose St. Francis and that speaks a lot about what's going on here," said O'Keeffe. "They come here and they excel and they go on to become great citizens for this country."

Besides his career as a restaurateur, O'Keeffe has served as Director on many Boards including the Fire Safety Foundation, the Harbor Foundation of NY and NJ and Fordham Preparatory School. He is a member of the Cardinal's Committee of The Laity, the New York State Restaurant Association and the Manhattan Waterfront Alliance. Currently Mr. O'Keeffe serves on the Board of Audubon New York, The University of Limerick in Ireland and the Futures in Education Foundation.

"The energy, passion and support for the mission of the College was abundantly clear throughout the evening," said Vice President of Development Thomas Flood. "New friends, old friends all gathered with one common purpose to make possible the gift of education."

The Charter Award Dinner began in 1962 by the St. Francis Board of Trustees to commemorate New York State granting the College a charter and the right to confer diplomas, honors and degrees. For 50 years, the Charter Award Dinner has been the College's premier fundraising event and has raised millions of dollars to support scholarships programs and further the educational mission at St. Francis.

Attached Photos:
From Left to Right: John F. Tully '67 (Chairman St. Francis College Board of Trustees), David Burke (Celebrity Chef, Author), Robert Catell (formerly of National Grid), Michael 'Buzzy' O'Keeffe (River Café), Kenneth D. Daly '88 CFA (President National Grid, New York), Brendan J. Dugan '68 (President St. Francis College)

From Left to Right: Cindy Luz Hernandez '13, Joseph Acciarito '12, Brendan J. Dugan '68, Jemma Hinkley '12, Charlene Seepersaud '12, Akeem Johnson '13.

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
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