Providing Students Access to Education: Lisa and James Mooney III ’90 Explain Why They Give

February 1st, 2017 by 


James F. Mooney III ’90 and Lisa M. Mooney have committed to endow ten full scholarships, which together will be known as The “Brooks Fellows” Scholarship Fund. The scholarship fund will support the enrollment of students who have less than full access to the American higher education system and whom the College has a need and a desire to enroll. Criteria for selection of Brooks Fellows include: outstanding academic performance, financial aid need that can’t be met with federal money, and an attractive or unique feature that elevates the Holy Cross community.

Holy Cross sat down with James and Lisa to find out what drives their continued commitment to supporting Holy Cross and its students:

The majority of your giving has centered on scholarship and financial aid. Why this focus? What are you trying to accomplish?

JIM: If you consider it at the highest level, financial aid is essential to the success of private education: elementary, secondary and college. Without it, the system wouldn’t function. If you think about a school populated only with full-pay students — that is not a very vibrant or diverse place and certainly not a place that is likely to have a particularly energizing mission. The availability of scholarships also gives the admissions office the ability to build a more dynamic class. So, in the big picture, our focus on financial aid is in response to an unambiguous and critical need. However, when you think about it less abstractly, an individual scholarship is a life-changing thing for a student. With scholarships, Lisa and I feel like we can have an impact in a very tangible and personal way. We really love the idea that we are able to help someone become who he or she was meant to be. So, while it’s easy to justify supporting financial aid at a macro level, it’s the micro impact that really appeals to us.

Perhaps the most compelling example of the power of financial aid is Father Brooks’ decision to offer scholarships to 20 African-American students in 1968. Everyone knows the story, and nobody would dispute the fact that those scholarships changed the lives of the 20 men who received them or that those men changed Holy Cross. Indeed, the scholarships that Lisa and I are creating are inspired by Father Brooks and are named for him.

We started with the simple question, “If Father Brooks were getting in his car today with a handful of scholarships and the intention to give them to highly-deserving kids who would never be at Holy Cross without them and who have the chance to change the school … where would he go?” After a lot of discussion, and a bold suggestion by Fr. Boroughs, we settled on the idea of supporting kids who don’t have access to traditional financial aid, i.e., kids from undocumented families. The idea resonated immediately. It addresses an obvious need, it embraces a marginalized community and it falls right at the core of Holy Cross’ mission. We are incredibly proud to be associated with this effort and we hope Father Brooks would see it as a confirmation of his vision.

Do you involve family in choosing which causes to support?

LISA: Jim and I are beginning to. Our kids are still a bit young to fully participate in the decision process, but we are doing everything we can to instill in them the idea that giving is an essential part of our life and that giving will be an essential part of their lives. We are also trying to help them understand that they are going to have to choose among many worthy causes by sharing with them how we attempt to set our priorities. We have stressed to our kids that the pleasure you get from the coolest thing you ever buy for yourself will not compare with the pleasure you get from supporting organizations and causes you care about. It’s not even close. We want them to see giving as a joy, which it truly is, not as an obligation. Hopefully when they see us give, they see us doing it with great satisfaction and as an expression of gratitude for all that we have been given.

With so many deserving causes in the world, why Holy Cross?

JIM: It is certainly true that there are many deserving causes. Because of that, you have to make peace with the fact that you can’t do everything. The best advice I ever got regarding philanthropy is: pick what is important to you and make that your focus. Lisa and I have chosen to focus on two areas — Catholic education and children’s health. Perhaps that is because our philanthropy began to take its shape at a time when our own children were growing up. We have really put our focus there and never looked back. With respect to why we have prioritized Holy Cross, it is, obviously, a reflection of the experience I had as a student. However, at a higher level, I really do believe that Holy Cross produces graduates that make the world a better place. I recognize that is a somewhat immodest statement, but I believe it. So, if we can make it possible for a kid to go to Holy Cross who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to go, then we did a good thing, not only for the kid but also for the world around that kid.

What meaning and satisfaction do you derive from your philanthropy?

LISA: We view philanthropy as one of the great privileges of our life. Too often, people view philanthropy as a selfless act: giving something when you are not obligated to give. We don’t see it that way at all. Jim and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from giving; it’s really an honor to be asked to give and to be able to give. It’s very much a two-way street in our minds. What a wonderful thing to be able to help…it’s humbling and joyful.
How did Holy Cross shape you?

JIM: I think Holy Cross probably shaped me more than I knew at the time. My education certainly taught me how to think: analytically, critically and morally, and it is fair to say that my Jesuit education has always been a north star, of sorts. Interestingly, I would argue that Holy Cross isn’t done shaping me. I am certain that my service on the board has created a greater closeness to the school and given me a much deeper appreciation of Holy Cross’ mission and, frankly, why it is a really important place. In fact, I probably try harder to live up to Jesuit ideals today than when I graduated. I guess the point is that my Holy Cross education is still growing in me and its importance to my life has become much clearer over time. If you embrace what the school is all about, your education is never really done.

The “Brooks Fellow” Scholarship Fund is the third scholarship fund that Jim and Lisa have set up at the College. The first was a scholarship endowed by Jim and his father, Jim ’52, in honor of his mother, Joan. The second was the Jim and Lisa Mooney Scholarships, established to meet the needs of middle income families whose children have been educated in the Catholic schools and who do not qualify for aid as calculated by federal formulas, but who could not afford a Holy Cross education without assistance.

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