A Good Deed Multiplied: The Charles E. Conklin and

Mabel E. Conklin Chapel Endowment at Marist College


Charlie and Betty Conklin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel at Marist College

 Charlie and Betty Conklin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel at Marist College

By Shaileen Kopec 

It started with two caring people and one heartfelt intention. For nearly seven years, an estimated 6,000 young men and women have been touched by the Charles E. and Mabel E. Conklin Chapel Endowment and its mission to support programs that keep Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel a vibrant part of campus life.

 Married for 57 years, Charlie and Betty Conklin are longtime residents of the greater Poughkeepsie community and well-known civic leaders. In 2002, at the 50th anniversary Mass marking a rededication of the Marist chapel, the Conklins received thunderous applause for establishing a fund to help the chapel remain an active presence of religious commitment on campus. It was a moving complement to the day’s saluting of the Marist Brothers and their steadfast labor to construct this landmark building.

Working with the Advancement Office, the Conklins discussed their vision with President Dennis J. Murray and Campus Minister Father Richard LaMorte. The couple wanted to provide financial resources above and beyond the chapel’s annual operating budget and soon developed a focus on expanding, deepening, and initiating programs that enriched the spiritual, liturgical, and leadership experiences of Marist students. Goals and the use of funds were identified, with activities to be monitored by Father LaMorte and to include collaboration with groups such as Campus Ministry and Catholic Connections.  

What began as generous annual contributions developed into a significant gift in 2006 to create an endowment. The Charles E. and Mabel E. Conklin Chapel Endowment has made the following possible, and because it is a permanent fund, which yields an annual award based on a percentage of the contribution and accumulated interest, activities such as these will be underwritten in perpetuity.  

Spiritual Retreat Opportunities and Fellowship—With the Conklin fund’s establishment, nearly 1,100 student enrollments have been partially underwritten for off-campus retreat programs including many at the Marist Brothers retreat center in Esopus, NY. Funds facilitate Catholic College Students Discussion Day, which promotes dialogues and social activities at various campuses and locations. More than 400 students have been involved, with participation extending to Vassar, West Point, the Culinary Institute, Dutchess Community College, SUNY New Paltz, and Mount Saint Mary.

Catholic Leadership Training—With a view to developing future parish leaders, more than 100 students have been selected for Campus Ministry’s Catholic Connections’ leadership program. Underwritten by the Conklin fund and held in coordination with Marist’s Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development, the program focuses on applied leadership training. As part of the program’s goals, these student have worked with as many as 600 disadvantaged youth, age 11 to 21, in outreach activities organized by the Catholic Student Association of Campus Ministry.

Spiritual Outreach through Service—Marist’s Campus Ministry group has an active volunteer outreach program, and during break periods there are opportunities for students to live their religious values by serving others in impoverished areas. Such experiences have moved some to redirect their lives and education to enter service efforts after graduation. Most recently, the Conklin fund has supported students doing community work in several locations in Mexico.

Enhancement of the Chapel’s Liturgical Environment—Attractive and contemporary liturgical hangings provide graphic focal points on the meaning of the holy seasons of Advent and Lent, as well as the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. The addition of a digital piano encourages greater singing participation, enhanced acoustics in an octagonal space, and flexibility in providing music at Mass. Technical enhancements are also now available to the chapel.

Broadening of Spiritual and Religious Education Opportunities—A Conklin endowment speaker series, open to the campus and community at large, addresses topics of interest in Catholicism and draws regular audiences. More than 2,500 pieces of written material on religious information and prayer life are annually underwritten and distributed through an information center installed in the chapel. Special communication is also extended to incoming freshmen who self-identify as Catholic. An interfaith video has been produced to support monthly discussion groups among Campus Ministry’s 1,400 members. The piece focuses on three Marist students who are Catholic, Jewish, and Evangelical Christian and how their faith traditions deal with thankfulness.

Expansion of the Liturgical Music Program—Endowment funding has created a more student-oriented liturgical music program at Marist. In addition to providing songbooks, resources have supported the customization of choral materials. Student scholarships are attracting first-rate leaders of song and lead musicians to provide high-quality musical accompaniment for Sunday Masses and related activity.

“In the time that the Conklin chapel endowment has been available at Marist, its activities have strengthened the presence of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel, the Catholic community on campus, and the spiritual lives of students at large,” says Father LaMorte. “We are sincerely grateful to Charlie and Betty Conklin for the generosity of spirit that made this fund possible and we will continue to value and uphold its important mission.”

Shaileen Kopec is senior development officer for planned giving and endowment support.