Annual Father Vincent Welch dinner benefits Catholic high school and UDM students
by Liz Cezat, contributing writer
Making a difference in the lives of Detroit’s children—from infants to teens—is the genesis of the annual Father Vincent Welch dinner that began 26 years ago to honor a priest who loved the city of Detroit, educating youth and his Catholic faith.
For the past 19 years, University of Detroit Mercy has been a beneficiary of funds raised from the dinner. This year, approximately $135,000 was raised, half of which was designated to UDM for both an endowed scholarship and for UDM athletics, and the other half for a scholarship at Loyola High School in Detroit. Since its inception, the dinner has raised more than $2.5 million.
It all began with alumnus Thomas McNamara ’54, an early partner of the CPA firm Doeren Mayhew and a military veteran. One of McNamara’s closest friends is Fr. Donald Worthy, a retired priest, who was a longtime hospital chaplain at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit. Fr. Worthy was also a close friend of Fr. Vincent Welch, a parish priest. Fr. Worthy and Fr. Welch shared a passion for baseball, and traveled to many World Series games from 1968 to 1986.
When Fr. Welch died in 1987, Fr. Worthy and McNamara decided to host a baseball-themed fundraising dinner in Fr. Welch’s honor. During the first years of the dinner, the proceeds supported a variety of causes in the city that focused on youth. Then Fr. Worthy suggested starting a scholarship for UDM students. They named the scholarship for Mary Leila Koeppe, RSM, who served as CEO of Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital and had worked with Fr. Worthy. She too passed away in 1987.
“The sorrow that I felt in losing my two friends turned into joy in seeing the happiness that the dinner and scholarship bring for so many,” said Fr. Worthy. “They dearly loved the Catholic faith and the children of the city. I feel their presence when I go to the dinner.”
McNamara’s longtime support of the UDM Athletic Department and as a founding member of the Cal Club resulted in that program also receiving funds. The UDM Athletic Department plays a key role in the annual dinner by handling publicity and logistics.
“I feel joyous and happy about this event,” said McNamara. “It’s part of my belief to give back. These funds help young people in the city get an education and have better opportunities. We invite more alumni to support it.”
For the past 15 years, McNamara’s son, Mike McNamara, who sits on the UDM Board of Trustees, has organized the event. Committee members are Tom and Mike McNamara, Fr. Worthy and Lynn Henning of The Detroit News.
“The event draws UDM alumni, friends and other supporters,” Mike McNamara said. “This year, 425 people attended. The highlight of the dinner is hearing the students speak about their goals and what the scholarship has meant to them.”
Antoinette Mordi, a junior in Biochemistry, is this year’s scholarship recipient. At the dinner, she noted, “Without the generosity of you and others who support UDM, I’m not sure if I would be able to continue my education at such a wonderful university. I decided to attend UDM for several reasons: my fascination with chemistry and my mother’s wishes for me to stay close to home because of her health issues.”.