GREENWICH—Paula Summa and Jim O’Neil of Greenwich, the newly named 2022 Vice Chairs of the Bishop’s Appeal, have accepted their leadership post because of their desire to help young Catholics and their commitment to Catholic education.
Their belief in Catholic education led them to say, “yes,” when they were asked to be the vice chair couple of the 2022 Bishop’s Appeal, which has the theme “A Bridge Home,” inspired by the vision Bishop Frank J. Caggiano articulated in his Pastoral Exhortation, “Let Us Go Forth.”
“This theme is meant to highlight hope and renewal underway in our Church and our lives,” Jim O’Neill said.
A central focus of the appeal is the young people of the Diocese of Bridgeport, who confront many challenges in modern society and need the support of the Church to navigate them.
“I’m encouraged by what the bishop wants to do with respect to children and young people,” Jim said. “We live in a world where many families are dealing with so many competing activities that you wonder when they have time to even do their homework. There aren’t enough hours in the day to engage them.”
Developing programs for younger generations is fundamental to this year’s appeal. “We have to figure out how to do it,” Paula, who is a catechist of St. Paul Parish in Greenwich, where she and Jim are parishioners said. “How do we communicate the faith and make it resonate?”
The Bishop’s Appeal, formerly the Annual Catholic Appeal, highlights hope, renewal and evangelization. It will invest in services to engage people in their faith by offering opportunities for discipleship, in addition to helping those who are struggling. The goal of the appeal is $8.1 million, which is the same as last year. Each parish will be allowed to determine how funds are used that are raised in excess of its goal.
“Paula and Jim bring a wealth of knowledge from their professional and personal lives; they are passionate about the bishop’s vision to build a bridge and bring people back to their faith. They especially care about reaching and inspiring our youth and young adults who will carry on the Gospel and we look forward to working with them and exploring new ideas,” said Pam Rittman, director of development and the Bishop’s Appeal.
“Paula and Jim were instrumental in helping St. Paul Parish exceed its 2021 Appeal goal by 32 percent and it made perfect sense to ask them to take on an expanded role for the 2022 Appeal” according to Joe Gallagher, chief development officer for the diocese. Paula and Jim say it is crucial to have greater participation in the Bishop’s Appeal and for Catholics to realize we are one faith community, with needs that extend beyond our parishes.
Jim emphasized the importance of expanding the participation in the appeal and said: “We have to cast a wider net and get more people to participate in the life of our Church, to follow Jesus’ words and his mission. We do wonderful things, but I think we can do better.”
Both Paula and Jim are products of a Catholic education, which has shaped their lives. And it is an experience they want others to share.
Paula grew up in Port Chester, N.Y., and attended Holy Rosary School, where she was taught by the Salesian Sisters and later the Sisters of Charity at the Academy of the Resurrection in Rye.
“I am a product of a generous donor who gave me a full scholarship and he never wanted me to know who he was,” she fondly recalls. “I’m sure I wasn’t the only one and that he did it for multiple people. I was always curious about him. Why would he pay for me to go to school?”
“We came from different backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common,” she recalls. “We were engaged in the faith. Academically, the quality was fantastic, and so was the character of the students and the people we interacted with. It was very different from what I would have experienced in public schools. We all shared the same value system. It was an all-girls school, and we weren’t shy to assume leadership roles and became successful in different professions.”
Jim attended Our Lady Queen of Peace School and was taught by the Presentation Sisters and later the Irish Christian Brothers at Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island. That experience defined him and created lifelong friendships and a strong value system.
“Both my parents are no longer with us, and I wish I had the opportunity to thank them for making the sacrifice to send me to Catholic school. It was such a great experience. In those days, parents had to spend $25 a month to send kids to high school, and it was a challenge. So how can we help out now, to whatever extent we can, when tuition is much higher? In today’s world, it’s a struggle for parents to send their kids to a private Catholic school.”
Jim is a non-practicing CPA, a retired IBM financial executive and board member of Atradius Trade Credit Insurance. He has a BBA in accountancy practice from Pace University and an MBA in finance from Columbia University. He served as the non-executive treasurer and board member of the United Way of Westchester and Putnam. Currently, he serves on the finance council of Saint Paul Church and the finance committee of Foundations in Education.
Paula has had many years of experience in various financial and general management positions at IBM. She held positions as CEO of IBM Digital Sales and CFO posts in IBM’s Global Geographic Units and Global Financing, Latin America Unit and Small and Medium Business Units, as well as other financial executive roles. She has a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s in accounting, as well as an MBA in accounting and finance from Pace University. She was a member of the Pace University Lubin School of Business Advisory Board, and she was recently named to the Board of Trustees of Foundations in Education.
(As we begin the 2022 Bishop’s Appeal, A Bridge Home, thank you for your support. To make your gift or learn more, please visit, www.2022BishopsAppeal.org or text the word, APPEAL, to 475.241.7849. If you have questions, please call 203.416.1470.)
By Joe Pisani