PROVIDENCE — Barbara Papitto wears two gold crosses around her neck — one for her deep faith in Christ, while the second, on a longer chain which places it closer to her heart, belonged to her late husband Ralph.
Ralph Papitto was a very successful local businessman whose forte was acquiring well-run companies and enhancing them. His success is memorialized on an etched metallic wall display in Barbara’s downtown Providence office with the title, “From Providence to Wall Street.” Ralph died in 2019 at the age of 92.
Generously, he left half the success that he accumulated from the three major businesses he owned — Glass-Tite Industries Inc., Nortek Inc., and AFC Cable Systems Inc., — to his charitable Papitto Foundation. He entrusted the other half to his beloved wife Barbara to use however she might think best.
“He always joked ‘my wife is going to give all my money to the Church after I’m gone,’” Barbara recounted as she smiled during an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, remembering that her husband of 32 years knew how passionate she has always been about her Catholic faith.
This year, as she launched her own philanthropic endowment — the Papitto Opportunity Connection — which has the purpose of funding established programs providing the education, skills training and entrepreneurial support for small businesses that employ members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community, Papitto has also been inspired to help support seminarian education in the Diocese of Providence with a major gift to an endowment fund created in the Catholic Foundation of Rhode Island.
“I always wanted to do this but I didn’t know the proper way,” Papitto said, until she learned more about the Catholic Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation of the Diocese of Providence which serves as the central investment vehicle for about 450 permanently endowed funds.
The Catholic Foundation currently holds assets of $135 million. Its endowed funds ensure that financial support will be provided to Catholic ministries in perpetuity.
Papitto has made a generous donation of $1 million to the Foundation to establish an endowment fund that will support the education of diocesan seminarians during their years of major seminary formation, and in some cases, those studying at the pre-theology level.
“This gift highlights both her generosity and thoughtfulness towards our seminarians,” said Rich Popovic, executive director of the Catholic Foundation.
“It enhances their ability to focus on their educational pursuits and spiritual formation. We at the Catholic Foundation are so grateful to Barbara and her commitment towards such an important aspect of the faith.”
Father Chris Murphy, rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, where new seminarians begin the first stage of their priestly formation, led Papitto on a tour of the minor seminary last week to meet a couple of the young men in formation who will benefit from her generosity as they advance in their studies.
“We’re so grateful. This is an amazing gift, so I want to thank you personally for it,” Father Murphy told Papitto, relaying some of his own personal experience as a seminarian during his formation.
“As someone who’s been through the process, and having that freedom to discern, when you have so many things you’re thinking about and praying about, so many things you’re worrying about, to have that burden [of financial support] alleviated is a tremendous gift for these men.”
Father Murphy said it costs around $40,000 per year for the diocese to send a seminarian to a major seminary, with some sent to Rome and others going to Boston.
Over four years of major seminary that adds up to about $160,000 per seminarian.
Seminarians and their families are responsible for the first four years of costs at Providence College, and for their room and board at Our Lady of Providence Seminary, although no one will be turned away due to their financial need, Father Murphy said.
“A vocation comes from God. One way or another, he’s going to make it happen,” he said.
Papitto’s endowment fund will help to support what is known as the ESF, which provides diocesan support for major seminarians.
“The ESF funds them all the way through major seminary,” Father Murphy said.
Papitto, an active parishioner of Holy Apostles Parish, remembers her early days growing up going to St. Edward’s Church in Pawtucket and how there were always several priests available in the rectory to minister to the congregation.
“There were always priests around then,” she recalled. “I know Jesus said the Church will always be here but you hear stories down South where people need to travel a hundred miles to get to a church for Mass and here we’ve run into the closing of churches as so many priests are at their retirement age, so hopefully this endowment will help to inspire more vocations.”
Papitto has long been a dynamic participant in her faith.
When she graduated from the former St. Francis Xavier Academy in Providence, she remained an active alum. She still works with some of her school peers in maintaining the St. Xavier Alumnae Association Scholarship Fund for students sponsored by members of the association entering a Catholic High School.
Papitto has also found joy in her volunteer work in the diocese, especially in helping young women entering motherhood with supplies through the Office of Life and Family’s St. Gabriel’s Call program.
She equated the challenges she sees many people go through to the obstacles she’s encountered in forming her foundation to provide needed outreach.
“All the way we have had doors shut on us, but we have gone through them. I’m so glad, it’s all divine intervention,” she said.
She has also established the Ralph R. Papitto Memorial Scholarship for Bishop McVinney School with the Foundation in honor of her late husband to help support students in the diocesan coeducational pre-K to 8th grade elementary school serving a diverse, urban population in Providence. According to Popovic, that fund is currently valued at $200,000.
“I do understand that God provides, but you have to help people along too and that’s what I’m hoping to do,” Papitto said.
Providence Seminarian Aidan Blanchette came into Our Lady of Providence seminary right out of Bishop Hendricken High School. He spent his first year at Rhode Island College and is now studying at Providence College.
“We always appreciate all the generous donations and the prayers we receive. A lot of us come from really different backgrounds so it really does help us,” Blanchette said.
“We give ourselves to the Church so it’s beautiful to see the Church provides as well. It really allows us to focus on our prayer and our studies so that we can be the best that we can be for them.”
Providence Seminarian Mateusz Puzanowski, who graduated from Stonehill College, is currently at the Pre-Theology II level of his formation and will be moving on from Our Lady of Providence to major seminary next fall.
“It’s reassuring that people are willing to support seminarians,” Puzanowski said of Papitto’s generous gift in creating the endowment fund.
“It shows that faithful Catholics want to ensure there are enough priests as they are looking towards the future.”
For information on establishing an endowment with the Catholic Foundation, or becoming a donor to an existing one, please email Foundation Executive Director Rich Popovic at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 401-277-2115.
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