Nearly 18 years ago, Father Jim Trainor died at the age of 69. Some friends of his spent Nov. 19 celebrating his memory at the 16th annual scholarship luncheon that is named in the late priest’s honor. It also happened to coincide with his 87th birthday.
Since 2005, the Father James Trainor Memorial Scholarship Fund has distributed $325,000 to students from Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Wilmington to help defray the cost of Catholic secondary education. The luncheon is the sole fundraiser, said Mike Hare, the co-chair of the Trainor Scholarship Committee, which is part of the St. Patrick’s Day Society.
Father Trainor was a priest in the diocese for almost 40 years. From 1970 until June 2003, he was stationed in the city of Wilmington. He was associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle from 1970-75, when he was named pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Hare said the scholarships endure because of the work of the scholarship committee that makes sure the luncheon is well-attended. People who come once want to come back, “and I think they believe in what we’re doing. It’s an acknowledgment of the value of a Catholic education. Maybe more specifically, the values of a Catholic education.”
Many of those at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, he added, know the experience of attending Catholic schools.
Father Trainor did not minister in education, Hare explained, but the scholarships go to children who attend schools in the city of Wilmington, which was near to the priest’s heart.
The schools whose eighth-graders are eligible for the grants are St. Ann, St. Anthony of Padua, Nativity Prep, St. Elizabeth, St. Peter Cathedral and Serviam Girls Academy, which moved to Wilmington last year. Each spring, the principals select a student based on his or her overall academic performance, service to the school or community, and financial need.
“This is just $1,000. We know with rising tuitions, it becomes more and more a drop in the bucket, but it’s just our way of saying we believe in what you’re doing, and we want to support you,” Hare said. The scholarships are renewable for each year of high school.
Each of the three bishops who have been in Wilmington since the inception of the program — Bishops Michael A. Saltarelli, W. Francis Malooly and Koenig — have been supporters. Bishop Malooly, Hare said, had an extraordinary knack for remembering the names of the recipients. All of the Catholic high schools in Delaware reserve at least one table at the luncheon, and they bring students to the event.
“It’s a great day, I think, to support Catholic education, and a great day to support the memory of Father Jim Trainor,” Hare said.
Bishop Koenig attended his first Father Trainor luncheon this year. He told the attendees of something that occurred two years ago in the parish on Long Island, N.Y., where he was the pastor. The school principal called him early one day and said she needed to speak with him. Bishop Koenig was apprehensive about the conversation.
The principal wanted to let him know that she had received a call from a man who had attended the school years ago. He said that as a fifth-grader, he wasn’t working up to his potential, and one of the sisters called his parents to let them know as much. The man’s parents relayed that message to their son, and in 2019, William G. Kaelin wanted to let his old school know he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for medicine.
“As I think about that, I think of the ways that as Catholic schools, we educate not only the body, the mind, but also the soul, giving our young people that opportunity to develop all their talents and to grow in a faith-based way,” the bishop said.
The guest speaker for the 2021 luncheon was Kevin Reilly, the Salesianum School and Villanova University graduate who spent three seasons in the National Football League before he was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor in 1975. He told the students present about the role his faith played during his battle against cancer and as he faced surgery to remove his left arm, shoulder and five ribs.
Father Trainor was one of the people who helped him overcome the trauma of the experience, he said. The priest took a train to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City and said Mass in Reilly’s hospital room.
“That gathering of people in my room gave me the confidence that I needed to get through the operation,” Reilly said.
The priest had an impact on Reilly and his friends. “This guy was unbelievable and was an inspiration to me and my buddies. It would take me hours to go through what kind of impact he had on me and the people around me. He was everyman’s priest. He was a little bit of a rebel, but a rebel you couldn’t help but love.”
When he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Reilly used to have his friends from Wilmington come to training camp, and Father Trainor was one of them. He told the priest that some of the players used to go to happy hour and dinner at a local establishment, and he was invited one day. Father Trainor showed up incognito and told Reilly that once they went through the doors, he was just “Jim.” No one was to know he was a priest.
Reilly introduced him to a teammate who was also Catholic. The next day, the teammate asked Reilly about his friend, and Reilly finally told him the man was a Catholic priest. The teammate, recalling some of the things he had said the night before, was mortified.
“I said it doesn’t matter,” Reilly said. “He didn’t care. He wanted to have fun. That’s the Father Trainor that we knew.”
Hare said the scholarship fund and the luncheon are an opportunity to remind people what a welcoming and inclusive priest he was and how many people he brought back to the church. He said Father Trainor would likely be “a little bit embarrassed” by the attention.
“He’d want to know that there’d be at least a little bit of wit and laughs at his memory, but I think he’d appreciate the fact that we’re helping people in the community that he helped for all of his priestly life.”