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Catholics comfort, assist carjacking murder victim’s family

Educational foundation, St. Vincent de Paul Society, St. Cecilia Parish provide help

Catholic agencies and individuals are assisting the Gonzalez family of St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis following a carjacking that took the life of a 30-year-old father and husband.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Anselm Parish is assisting with utilities and rent, and St. Cecilia School & Academy held a food drive. Other donors are helping with funeral and burial expenses, and help for professional counseling will be provided.

One of the biggest efforts will fund the Catholic education of the victim’s three children. When the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation staff learned that the father of one of its needs-based scholarship recipients was murdered in the carjacking of his 18-year-old car, they took immediate action.

Pete Cerone, senior director of advancement for the foundation, said staff investigated the family’s tuition balance for the rest of the year and learned that their scholarship covered part of the tuition at St. Cecilia School & Academy. They looked at options and made the decision to increase the family’s Help for Today Hope for Tomorrow scholarship so the family would not have any tuition burden this year.

Besides helping the two children of Victor Gonzalez-Romero attend St. Cecilia School the remainder of the school year, the foundation pledged to provide needs-based tuition assistance for the children, ages 10 and 8, throughout their schooling at St. Cecilia and for their younger sister, age 3, who will enter the school in a couple years.

Gonzalez-Romero was killed in front of his home near St. Cecilia Parish on Nov. 24. St. Louis Metropolitan Police arrested Kai’von De’meze Johnson, 18, who faces felony charges in St. Louis Circuit Court of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of armed criminal action.

Gonzalez-Romero’s wife of 14 years, Teresa Garivai, said she is thankful for the support. “It’s a big help,” she said.

Also helping is her belief in God, said a family friend, Carlos Lardizabal. “She’s just trying to assimilate what’s happened and has to be strong to take care of the kids,” he said.

Lardizabal, a member of St. Cecilia Parish, cited the help of the parish and school in supporting the family spiritually and pastorally as well as coordinating assistance. Parish parochial administrator Father Timothy Noelker celebrated a memorial Mass for Gonzalez-Romero Nov. 27.

Lardizabal works with Gonzalez-Romero’s cousins and met with the family when they moved here recently from California. Gonzalez-Romero worked in the construction field and also at a grocery when bad weather shut down the construction work, Lardizabal said.

Gonzalez-Romero enjoyed spending time with his family, cooking and listening to music as well as attending Mass on Sundays, his friend and wife said. Swimming and playing soccer are among the children’s interests.

They enjoy their school, especially playing with the other children, and adjusted to it quickly, Garivai said. “The teachers are very good,” she said.

Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation

The foundation is the fourth largest foundation of its kind in the country. In the last 10 years, the foundation has grown from providing scholarships for 700 elementary school students to more than 4,500 students, and from a $1 million organization to a $12 million organization. It distributes more than $10 million a year to families desiring a faith-based education for their children. Scholarship recipients attend every Catholic elementary school in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The foundation also has partner elementary schools — Most Holy Trinity Catholic School and Academy, St. Cecilia School and Academy and St. Louis Catholic Academy — which receive assistance with operational and educational expenses. It also partners with Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School and Trinity Catholic High School. In addition to scholarship assistance for students, the foundation is responsible for the fundraising and development efforts at each school.

More than 2,200 Today and Tomorrow Foundation alumni are attending or have graduated from 99 universities in 26 states. For information, visit www.ttef-stl.org.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul

The Society is a Catholic lay organization, leading women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and suffering. The international Society of St. Vincent de Paul today is the world’s largest social assistance organization, with operations in more than 140 countries on five continents. The Society is organized into conferences, or all-volunteer neighborhood groups, supported by regional councils. There are 140 conferences served by the St. Louis Council. The Society assisted more than 344,000 people and provided more than $8.4 million in direct aid to people in need in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

For information, visit www.svdpstlouis.org.

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