In September 1959, our newly appointed Bishop, the Most Reverend John J. Wright, commissioned the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Knights of Columbus to embark on a program to help children with intellectual disabilities, especially the children at the “St. Anthony’s School for Exceptional Children”.
A Special Charities Committee was formed with Chapter President, William B. Jones, as chairman. A Christmas Seals program was suggested as a potential funds raiser and received the instant support and blessings of the Bishop of Pittsburgh. Under John Vegh’s leadership, the success of this endeavor was most encouraging.
The Bishop wanted the Knights of Columbus Special Charities Committee to include all Knights of Columbus in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The next year, the Beaver Valley Chapter councils and the unaffiliated councils in Butler, Lawrence, Washington and Greene Counties were included.
Concern that the program might disintegrate by electing new officers each year, His Excellency commissioned a permanent board to maintain a continuity of experience. Regis J. Sheehan, Pittsburgh Chapter President, William B. Jones, Immediate Past President, Emeric Davis and Mark De Angelis, President and Immediate Past President of the Beaver Valley Chapter, were appointed to the Advisory Board. Regis J. Sheehan was named the Advisory Board’s Chairman. This Advisory Board would expand each year with each succeeding Chapter President’s addition. To assure that the Advisory Board representation for councils not affiliated with either the Pittsburgh or Beaver Valley Chapter, Samuel Dambrocia and Ferruccio Bartolini were appointed to the Advisory Board representing the Pittsburgh Diocese’s northern and southern areas (Lawrence, Butler, Washington and Greene Counties). The Chairmanship would be held for one year and would alternate between the two Chapter Presidents and the unaffiliated Council’s representative. The Advisory Board Chairman also served as the General Project Chairman and was responsible for coordinating all aspects of the program.
In 1960, the title “Special Charities Committee” was changed to “The Bishop Wright Project for St. Anthony’s School for Exceptional Children.” In 1964, the McGuire Memorial Hospital was added to the Diocesan facilities for children with intellectual disabilities and became from now on associated with the project.
Following Ferruccio Bartolini’s death and Samuel Dambrocia’s appointment to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, the Advisory Board became responsible for selecting Project Chairmen from the unaffiliated Councils to serve in alternate years between the Pittsburgh, Beaver Valley and Mon Valley Chapter Presidents.
In 1966, the project was originally chartered in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (and registered with the IRS) as a non-profit corporation using the name “Pittsburgh Diocese Knights of Columbus Bishop Wright Project” to “contribute to and assist in the support of the Program of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, for physically and mentally handicapped children.”
In 1970, the Most Reverend Bishop Vincent M. Leonard replaced Bishop John J. Wright as Ordinary of the Pittsburgh Diocese. Bishop Vincent M. Leonard elected to continue the project. Recognizing the certainty of the succession of Bishops, in 1976, the project’s name was changed to “Knights of Columbus Bishop of Pittsburgh Diocese Project.” Pittsburgh’s succeeding Bishops Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Donald W. Wuerl and David A. Zubik enthusiastically elected to continue the project.
The project flourished because of the efforts and enthusiasm of the Knights, the cooperation and help of the press, radio and television media, and the public’s generosity. The Seals Program was the initial fund-raising endeavor. From the very beginning, each council pursued other methods of obtaining funds. Frank Buczkowski, the 1980/81 Project Chairman, started the church “penny collection” following Sunday Masses. At the same time, Pius XII Council 4925 distributed Tootsie Rolls at shopping centers to encourage donations. By 1984, so many Councils were distributing Tootsie Rolls that Pat Boccardi was selected to coordinate these Tootsie Roll drives. The proceeds from these activities are combined in our financial report as Council Activities.
In 2015, the project developed its first website (and electronic donation method). At that point, more than $6,000,000 had been provided to the St. Anthony School and McGuire Memorial Home.