Three families in the Notre Dame community gathered Saturday morning to tell their stories of love, family and Our Lady’s University.
Approximately 500 people attended the “Love Thee Notre Dame” celebration, a gift-planning initiative in Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
According to the website for the Office of Gift Planning, the initiative was launched this year by the University to focus on “encouraging greater numbers of the Notre Dame family to plant seeds for the future.”
The program began with the performance of an original song by John Scully, a Notre Dame All-American and a 1980 graduate of the University, sung by Cathy Richardson, a singer recognized for “Here Come the Irish.”
Regis Philbin, a 1953 alum, then took the stage for the core of the event. He began by explaining the purpose of the gift-planning initiative.
Philbin introduced Frank Belatti, a 1969 graduate, and his wife Cathy, as a prime example of a family that loves Notre Dame.
“In fact, the Belatti’s found a way to share their love for Notre Dame in an absolutely incredible way … by making it possible for an entire family to benefit from a Notre Dame education,” Philbin said.
A video relayed the Belatti’s story of building houses for Habitat for Humanity that transformed into a relationship with a single mother and her five children.
Originally from Nigeria, the Okonokhua’s moved to Atlanta and moved into the 100th house that Frank and Cathy Belatti built.
The Belatti’s decided to make a gift to the University that would provide scholarship assistance to an entire family. The Okonokhuas, who have had three children graduate from Notre Dame and two children currently enrolled, are currently utilizing the gift.
“You are about to see a truly remarkable story. It’s a story about the love of a mother and a father for their son. It’s a story about the courage of student who, far more than most, faced the challenges of attending Notre Dame ? what though the odds be great or small,” he said. “It’s a story about how the entire Notre Dame Family responded to make sure that one very special young man shared the Notre Dame experience to the fullest.”
Matt Swinton, a 2012 graduate, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a group of inherited diseases that cause muscle damage and weakness. Confined to a wheelchair, Matt was able to make the most out of his four years at Notre Dame with the help of his parents, friends and the University.
“Being on campus this weekend and seeing students with their backpacks has made me want to jump in and get some learning done,” Swinton said. “Some of my friends are here for the game. These are some of the guys I will never lose touch with.”