Life Lessons on the Art of Giving
privitera family funds st. thomas more statue
Francis “Frank” Privitera ’56 has a favorite saying: “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” Those lines will be inscribed on a commemorative plaque on the base of a sculpture of St. Thomas More that the Privitera family is funding and will be installed on the BC Law campus this spring.
The commissioning of the statue by Bolivian-born sculptor Pablo Eduardo, who lives in Gloucester, is the most recent example of the Privitera family’s commitment to the Law School, which already benefits from the Francis D. Privitera Scholarship Fund and the Francis D. Privitera Commencement Award. The statue will bear the name of Privitera and his two sons, Francis D. Privitera Jr. ’95 and Philip Privitera ’95.
Privitera and his wife Jean have supported other artistic projects in the course of a long philanthropic career. They commissioned a bronze statue of Dante that stands outside the Dante Alighieri Cultural Society in Cambridge. In 1995, Bernard Cardinal Law unveiled the couple’s gift to the Sacred Heart Church in Boston’s North End, a six-foot-high bronze relief dedicated to Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini, who sent the first Italian missionaries to America in the 1870s to care for Italian immigrants.
If the Scalabrini commission was a tribute to Privitera’s roots in the Sicilian immigrant community in Boston’s West End, the St. Thomas More project is testimony to the ideals and ethics that BC Law has instilled in two generations of his family. BC Law, said Philip Privitera in a recent interview, reinforced his family’s tradition of responsibility to community, “responsibility to do something other than just make money with the practice of law.”
As a child growing up in Boston’s West End, Frank Privitera learned more about making ends meet by shining shoes and delivering newspapers, than about making money and practicing law. “I didn’t even know what a lawyer was,” said Privitera, sitting in his Somerville office surrounded by trophies and awards accumulated during half a century of legal practice, commercial ventures in real estate and computers, and philanthropy.
“Where I came from, when you reached sixteen or seventeen, you went to work,” Privitera said. His father had a fishing boat and expected his sons to work with him. Frank was the first member of his family to graduate high school, and it was only with extreme reluctance that his father, who had no formal schooling, was persuaded by a family friend and the local undertaker Joseph Russo, to let him attend Northeastern University. On the way to school the first day, Russo gave Frank a ride in his undertaker’s limo, one of the few cars in the neighborhood. “You’re going to hear a lot of name calling,” Russo warned. “There aren’t too many kids at school with vowels at the end of their names.”
Privitera vowed that his own three children would grow up in an environment here everybody goes to college, but at the same time, he wanted them to develop the toughness and self-reliance that he had learned as a streetwise shoeshine boy. So although Philip lived in Arlington and went to Belmont Hill School, “that didn’t prevent my father from asking me to paint dumpsters and renovate apartments and do tile jobs,” Philip said.
Another lesson that Privitera wanted to pass on was something he had learned from his own father: the importance of generosity. His eyes still fill with tears when he remembers one Thanksgiving during the Depression, when his father went out to buy a turkey. He came home empty-handed, having given it away to another family. “They needed it more,” he told his wife. And although his own experience of getting and giving was very different from that of his son and grandsons, surely the elder Privitera would approve the lines that will commemorate his family when Pablo Eduardo’s sculpture is unveiled.