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In 2010 the Catala Club celebrated 80 years of work and play. Its members have raised millions for scholarships—and they’re going strong.
Winnie Hook never attended Santa Clara, at least not in the traditional sense. By the time the University started admitting women in 1961, Hook was already in her 50s. Still, the 104-year-old has done so much learning at the college that she says a little bit of Santa Clara’s soil belongs to her.
Hook is the oldest member of Santa Clara’s Catala Club, a women’s auxiliary founded in 1930 to help the Jesuits take care of vestments and altar linens, although that mission quickly shifted to raising money for student scholarships. It was a wonderful cause, Hook says, though she admits she first started attending meetings more for the lectures by university professors who’d talk to the club about everything from poetry to politics.
One speech on the construction of the Boulder Dam (now known as the Hoover Dam) around 1935 so transfixed Hook that she came home and told her husband to get ready for a trip. (Side note: He’s the one who gave her the nickname Winnie; her parents named her Noreen.) With their 5-year-old daughter, the Hooks drove a camper-trailer across the state on nearly empty highways, passing the “one-horse” town of Las Vegas before arriving in Boulder City, where the hydroelectric behemoth was rising in the desert. “It was so hot I thought I was slowly being led into Hell,” Hook says. Seventy-five years later, she still marvels at the memory of the giant turbines shooting water. “It was awesome.”
Generations later, Hook—slowed but undeterred by blindness—is going strong, and so is the Catala Club, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in March with a gala at Benson Center. As when Hook joined, the club remains a stopping point for university lecturers like W.M. Keck Professor of Economics Mario Belotti, who gave one of his trademark economic assessments at the club’s first meeting of 2010. But now as then, the club’s true raison d’être is raising money for scholarships.
The club’s donations to the school have exceeded over $1 million, says Jim Purcell, who served for the past 14 years as SCU’s vice president for University Relations. He calls Catala a fundraising dynamo along the lines of the Bronco Bench. At the end of 2009, the approximate value of the club’s two endowed scholarship funds was more than $2.7 million, with the proceeds helping a dozen undergraduates attend Santa Clara this year.
“When they ask me how my family can afford to fund my attendance at Santa Clara, I reply that the heavy burden of tuition is lightened by the kindest souls in the world,” wrote Thomas Dang ’12, a political science major, in thanking the Catala Club for its support.
Dianne Bonino ’76, who recently finished a two-year term as Catala president, says the club’s commitment to helping new generations of students attend Santa Clara is the biggest reason she belongs. Her father died after her freshman year, leaving the family of five children in tough straits financially. But she was able to continue her studies thanks to a full-ride scholarship from Santa Clara’s Jesuit community.
“I received a gift and I want someone else to be able to get something too,” she says.
The club takes its name from Magin Catala, O.F.M., a Spanish Franciscan who arrived at Mission Santa Clara in 1794, earning a reputation for educating local Native Americans—a fitting namesake given the club’s goals. Still, the earnestness of the club’s origins and focus doesn’t mean the Catala women don’t have fun.
For years, the club’s annual luncheon and fashion show in the Mission Gardens garnered full-page spreads in the society pages of local newspapers. These days they fly a little more under the radar, but the club still draws hundreds of guests to the year’s highlight event: Fashion Plates, a show that doubles as a silent auction, selling the table settings the women design. The club’s bread-and-butter events, though, are the monthly luncheons, which are, as much as anything, a chance to catch up.
“You can’t really expect the women to keep giving donations to something unless they enjoy what they’re getting,” says Betty Ford, a two-term president of the club who calls herself a San Jose State graduate with a Santa Clara heart. Three of her children studied on the Mission Campus, as did her husband. She has been a Catala member since 1974.
A congenial crew
It’s a challenge for some women busy with jobs to make the weekday meetings, though it’s possible. Attorney Patricia Mahan J.D. ’80 was elected mayor of Santa Clara on a Tuesday in November 2002 and presided over a Catala Club meeting the next day. Then-University President Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60 showed up at the Catala meeting to congratulate her.
“I have to say the Catala board is a lot more congenial than running the city council,” jokes Mahan, who was president of the club from 2002 to 2004 and who is in her final year as Santa Clara’s mayor. Her sister and mother are also Catala members.
Many of her fellow club members have been involved in Catala for decades, a testament to its worth, she says. But it’s valuable for newcomers too. Indeed, for busy women juggling careers and family, the club helps focus their limited time and resources for maximum effect.
“The club can do so much with whatever you can give,” Mahan says.
The club has some 300 members. Parents, alumnae, and relatives of Jesuits are especially invited to join, but Catala is open to any friend of Santa Clara—provided, of course, she is a woman. Husbands do occasionally accompany members to the meetings. But often the only man in attendance is Bill Donnelly, S.J. ’49, whose mother was a member in his student days when Catala’s fashion show really stood out on the all-male campus.
Donnelly, who is Bonino’s uncle, has been attending Catala’s meetings since being appointed the club’s 14th chaplain in 1993, giving him the longest tenure of anyone who has served in that capacity. Not that Donnelly minds the years of extra work. He admires the women’s endless energy in service for others. And he gets a lot of invitations to parties.