One Woman’s Generous Gift Allows Another To Retire In Peace

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Danbury’s St. Peter School gets $1 million bequest

Eileen FitzGerald – Updated 9:53 pm, Monday, August 5, 2013

DANBURY — St. Peter School Principal Mary McCormack wasn’t quite ready to wrap up her 43-year career until she knew the school she loved was financially solvent.  So she turned to prayer.

“I never felt comfortable leaving with someone having to come in and pick up the pieces so I prayed the school would be solvent,” McCormack said Monday. “The Lord heard my prayers.”

Former student Joan McNulty Kilby left $1 million in her will to the Main Street school that has been in Danbury since 1885. The gift helped allay the 73-year-old school principal’s worries as she neared retirement, and will help with tuition for many students.

Kilby, nicknamed “Dixie,” grew up at 107 South St. in Danbury. She died Dec. 11, a month shy of her 90th birthday, in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s a great story,” said Mary Sue Donohue, Kilby’s attorney since 1987. “She felt the positive effects of a Catholic education.”

Kilby served for two years in World War II and was a librarian at the New York School of Social Work at Columbia University and, Donohue said, she was frugal. She married Henry Kilby, a widower, and they agreed to the bequest to St. Peter School.

Kilby stayed informed about conditions at St. Peter, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, and knew about its financial woes and low enrollment.

In 2007, the Diocese of Bridgeport merged Sacred Heart and St. Peter schools, but kept the younger and older students separate. In the last couple of years, however, the diocese has continued to move grades to St. Peter, and this fall all the students, including pre-kindergarten will be there, for a total of about 155 students.

Kilby didn’t want the school to know of her bequest until after her death. Donovan notified the school Dec. 14. She said she was told the school was in lockdown because it was the day Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and killed six educators and 20 children.

Kilby also donated $1 million to the St. Joan of Arc parish near her Boca Raton, Fla., home.

Kindergarten teacher Donna McCarthy, who has worked with McCormack since 2004, said she was sorry her boss left so soon. “It’s sad that she’s not getting to enjoy the money,” McCarthy said. “I never have seen a woman work harder to see a school succeed. Even during the merger, she never gave up faith it would work,” McCarthy said. “She never gave up hope. We knew it was always going to work because she was behind it.”

McCormack, was a teacher for 18 years in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a teacher and administrator for 25 years in the Diocese of Bridgeport. She said she hopes to teach again.

“It was a great joy to hear about this gift,” said Sister Mary Grace Walsh, the interim superintendent of schools for the Bridgeport diocese. Walsh praised McCormack’s skills as a principal and said her successor, Suzanna Zello, would continue her work.

“I know she will carry on the great traditions that Mary McCormack established there. Suzanna will be a good steward of that money,” Walsh said. “This will help close the gap between the real cost of educating the children and what parents can afford to pay.”

Walsh has her own connections to St. Peter that make the donation and the school’s success meaningful to her.

“This is very special to me because my grandfather graduated from the school in the early 1900s,” she said. “My grandfather was Irish and the school has always been a school for children of immigrants.”

eileenf@newstimes.com; 203-731-3333

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