Fortin Foundation donates $1M to Catholic schools project

By Matt Hudson mhudson@billingsgazette.com Photos by James Woodcock

November 20, 2015 Billings Catholic Schools received a big donation toward its new K-8 school building, which is set to break ground this spring. The Fortin Foundation announced Friday that it’s giving $1 million to the schools for the project. The gift comes as Billings Catholic Schools is in a big fundraising push. “They chose to take an active role in the decision to provide a better facility, or larger facility or newer facility, for Catholic education,” said Nick Cladis, a board member for the foundation. Cladis said that the foundation views Billings Catholic Schools as good stewards of its funds and students, and the gift fits into its philanthropic priorities of education, health care and the less fortunate. The school system is working toward an $18 million building project, which will include a K-8 building for all students at those grade levels. Billings Catholic Schools Foundation President Janyce Haider said that they have $11 million pledged toward the project, but less than a quarter of that amount is in their bank account. They’re working to get $9 million in hand before breaking ground, and the Fortin donation comes as the first single gift of that size toward the project. Haider said they’ve had a longstanding relationship with the Fortin Foundation. “The Fortins have been very generous to us and to other people in the community,” she said. The foundation is named for oilman Philip Fortin and his wife, Mary Alice. Together, they were a social and philanthropic force in Billings and in Florida, where the foundation is based. Many local buildings, additions and other things bear the Fortin name as a result of their giving. In the 1970s, Philip Fortin was involved in the founding of the Billings Area Catholic Education Trust, known to insiders as BACET. The trust has backed the local Catholic schools organization since then. Philip Fortin died in 1982. Mary Alice Fortin in 2007. Their impact on Billings institutions continues posthumously. “They love Montana, they love Billings, and they have continued to be really philanthropic to the area,” Cladis said.

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