Thank goodness for Mickey Mouse and space travel.
Were it not for those two things, according to celebrated Charlestown citizen Gerard Doherty, he may have never learned to read, never attended Malden Catholic, never made his way to Harvard University and never become Charlestown’s well-respected state legislator.
On Monday afternoon, Doherty (Class of 1946) and his wife, Regina, travelled to Malden Catholic to recall stories of the past and announced an unrestricted gift of $2 million to the Catholic high school.
But it was no sure thing that Doherty ever became a student beyond the fourth grade.
Growing up in Charlestown, he said he was dyslexic and never was able to learn to read.
“I was held back in the third grade and my grades weren’t going well the next year,” he recalled. “My brother was a good student, but I just couldn’t read. The nun that held me back went to school with my mother and she told her that I was probably going to have to quit school when I was in the fourth grade. However, that April, my sister and I went to the movies. She would always read me the opening credits because I couldn’t read them. On that day, she was about to start reading and I told her to wait. I asked her if it said, ‘Mickey Mouse Goes to the Moon.’ That was the first thing I could ever read. I was supposed to leave school, but I went ahead and took the final exams and did well on them. So I was able to stay in school.”
From there, he began to flourish as a student, and Father Patrick Healy – now the chaplain of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home – and his family encouraged Doherty to go to Malden Catholic.
When he did, he flourished as a student and as a football player for the team, but he also had a bit of a culture shock in leaving the Town, he shared.
“For me, coming from Charlestown to Malden was like foreign travel,” he said. “In Charlestown, we talked funnier than people in Malden. The brothers straightened us out…Again, coming from Charlestown, I had never really seen any trees. We went to the park for football practice and I was amazed at all the trees. Until then, I thought telephone poles were trees.”
But it was the teachers, the atmosphere and the school that changed the course of Doherty’s life, with one teacher encouraging him to go to Harvard and helping him pass the exams – a move that would forever alter the course of his life.
“My life was changed by this school,” he said. “I owe a lot to it.”
The personal decision to make the gift came recently when Doherty and his family traveled to MC for a football game this fall.
However, the official announcement came on Monday at the school to the school community, representatives from the Xaverian Brothers, and members of the Board of Trustees at the school’s Mass for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, an annual celebration in honor of the school’s patron saint.
Fittingly, the Mass was celebrated in Doherty Gymnasium, which bears his name in tribute to both his own athletic gifts as an MC student and his many years of loyal benefaction.
Joining Gerard and Regina for the occasion were Board Chairman Jim Donovan and alumnus Joseph J. O’Donnell ’62, both fellow major benefactors.
“Malden Catholic exists as it does today because of visionary and dedicated alumni leaders like Gerard Doherty, who for many decades has never forgotten his own roots,” said O’Donnell. “MC was a uniquely transformative experience for him as it continues to be for so many qualified young men and women seeking a bright future.”
Doherty’s impact on Malden Catholic is perhaps summed up best by current senior Rory Carrier, who described Gerard as “another grandfather” to him and had the privilege serving in both Gerard and Regina’s wedding and today’s Mass for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier.
“He has always been an inspiration to me,” said Rory, a Charlestown resident. “I look up to Gerard as a man who didn’t grow up rich but worked hard, made connections with people, became successful, and ended up changing the lives of so many Charlestown kids like me and my brothers by giving us all the opportunity to come to Malden Catholic.”
The gift marks Doherty’s largest single gift to Malden Catholic, surpassing his $1.1 million gift to the Essential Malden Catholic Campaign in 2012. It brings his lifetime giving total to more than $4 million in support of the school and its students.