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CHINATOWN : Alumni Stay True to Their School

For the love of their alma mater, an alumni association raised $35,000 for student scholarships with a New Year’s Eve ball--and hopes to raise thousands more this year for the all-boys Catholic high school that holds special significance in the Latino community.

Lou Nevarez, 44, focused more on counting up the proceeds than counting down the last few seconds of 1994 at a New Year’s Eve fund-raiser held on behalf of Cathedral High School at Downtown’s Biltmore Hotel.

“The school taught us how to survive. Some of us turned that survival into success and now we just want to give something back,” said Nevarez, who directs the Cathedral High School Alumni Assn. fund-raising efforts.

Like many inner-city families, Nevarez said his parents sacrificed so he could have a good education. He hopes to make it a little easier for other families by providing scholarships.

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The school has a place in the hearts of many Catholic Latino families who have sent their sons to the school for generations.

Currently 85% of the school’s students are Latino and many come from working-class families with incomes of about $15,000. About half of the school’s 420 students receive some sort of financial aid to cover the $2,500 tuition, said Brother Jerome Gallegos, a school administrator.

Last year the alumni association raised about $65,000 for school programming and to help students cover their school expenses.

“Without the alumni association there are some students who just would not be here,” Gallegos said.

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“What we had was a good education and good experience. We want other kids to have the same experience,” said Carlos Carbajal Jr., a 1972 graduate and vice president of the alumni association.

This year, as the school celebrates its 70th birthday, the alumni association hopes to raise at least $100,000 with another fund-raising party at which $10,000 will be raffled. A day at Santa Anita racetrack and a golf tournament are also planned.

The alumni’s commitment does not end when a student leaves the school.

When a recent graduate couldn’t afford the tuition at USC, the alumni association loaned him the money so he could enroll.

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And the alumni also give their time to the students. Many act as big brothers or second fathers to the students and hire them for summer jobs.

The school has an 85% graduation rate with more than half going on to four-year colleges and one-third going on to two-year institutions, school officials said.

Cathedral alumni were galvanized in 1984 when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced, without any warning to parents or the Christian Brothers who run the school, that the school grounds had been sold to a Hong Kong developer for $10 million and the school would be closed in 1987.

In response, thousands of people contributed $30,000 in small donations for a “Save Cathedral” campaign. The school’s alumni took out newspaper ads, rented dozens of billboards and organized demonstrations. Students and family members arranged for special Masses.

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Following the community protest, Archbishop Roger Mahony, who had just been appointed, rescinded the sale in 1985, returned the money and kept the school running.


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