Former PNC executive receives papal award
William Boyd jumped at the chance to help when the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese was looking for ways to keep grade schools open in three inner-city neighborhoods.
On the surface, his zeal might appear curious — he is not a Roman Catholic and was not raised in the inner city.
But to those who know Boyd, working with a program to help disadvantaged children is a perfect fit for the former PNC Foundation executive.
Boyd recently was honored by Pope John Paul II for his efforts to launch the Extra Mile Education Foundation, which was set up in 1989 to help finance elementary parochial school education for inner-city children.
The three schools originally aided by the foundation are Holy Rosary in Homewood, St. Agnes in Oakland and St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District. St. James, in Wilkinsburg, later became an Extra Mile school.
Bishop Donald Wuerl recently presented Boyd with the Benemerenti Award, a papal honor for a lay person who has given significant support to the activities of the Catholic Church or church-related activities. The honor was instituted in 1832 by Pope Gregory XVI.
“Bill Boyd was really critical to the whole effort to launch the Extra Mile program,” said the Rev. Douglas Nowicki, Archabbot of St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, who was secretary of education for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1989.
“One of the things that inspired me was his deep commitment to the education of young people, particularly in areas of the city where they didn’t have much opportunity,” Nowicki said.
“He is an exceptional human being who brought a tremendous amount of spirit to the project, especially when you consider that he was at a point in his career where he could just sit back and relax.”
The Extra Mile Education Foundation was developed at a time when the diocese was experiencing financial hardships and could no longer provide sufficient funding for the inner-city schools, Nowicki said.
“Bishop Wuerl was looking for a way to keep those schools open, so he went to (retired PNC chairman) Tom O’Brien, who in turn brought Mr. Boyd into the process,” Nowicki said.
Extra Mile provides tuition assistance to nearly 850 predominantly black children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The majority of the children are non-Catholic.
Boyd said he was intrigued by the idea of getting involved in a program to help children obtain a quality education.
“I always had been aware of the difficult challenges these children face,” said Boyd, who retired from PNC in 1980. “But I really never had any real sense of what I could do about it. So when the opportunity came to help the bishop develop this program, I jumped right into it.”
Boyd said through the associations he made while working for the PNC Foundation, he was able to tap members of Pittsburgh’s corporate and philanthropic community to contribute to Extra Mile.
“I truly had a sense that affluent people in this area would put up the money for this program because they have a great concern for the difficulties faced by many inner-city children,” said Boyd, 88, of Sewickley, who is a graduate of Yale University, where he attended on an academic scholarship. He serves as the Extra Mile’s assistant treasurer and is chairman of the foundation’s development advisory committee.
“And even though many of the contributors are Protestant, they have a great respect for the education these children would be receiving in the Catholic schools.”
Ambrose Murray, executive director of the Extra Mile Foundation, believes Boyd’s civic-mindedness and strong connection to the community were the assets needed to make the program successful.
“I think the moment he knew there was going to be a meeting to talk about developing the program, Bill Boyd put a mini-action plan together,” Murray said.
“Nobody really had to ask him do that. He seemed to have a natural ability to develop a plan for forming a successful foundation. And basically we continue to follow that formula today.”
Joseph F. Dominic, director of education programs for the Heinz Endowments, said Boyd’s ability as a strategist was key to getting financial backing for Extra Mile.
“He is a really determined person who is quite skillful at creating financial support systems, which is exactly what the program needed to become successful,” Dominic said.
Boyd said he was “completely surprised” when he learned that the pope would be honoring him for his work.
“I told the bishop that while I was very thankful for the honor, I never expected or needed recognition for what I did,” Boyd said. “I got involved in this because I couldn’t think of anything more meaningful than to help those who need help the most.”