A Palo Alto centenarian has bequeathed nearly $2 million to be used for scholarships -- and a new building -- at the St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School on Channing Avenue.
Mary Baracchi, a 1927 graduate of Palo Alto High School who worked in real estate and never married, was seven weeks short of her 103rd birthday when she died in her Tasso Street home July 2.
Baracchi loved children and enjoyed recounting stories of the families to whom she had sold homes in Palo Alto, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside, her longtime friend the Rev. John Hester said.
The K-8 St. Elizabeth Seton School, located on the grounds of St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, educates 275 children from East Palo Alto and surrounding low-income communities. It is managed by the Daughters of Charity, a worldwide organization of Catholic sisters, serving the sick and the poor.
One million dollars of Baracchi's bequest will go to the school's scholarship fund. Another $850,000 will be combined with other donations to construct a $1.9 million building to house kindergartners and a new pre-K program, school officials said.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for next spring.
"These early years are so important in the development of our children," Principal Evelyn Rosa said.
"These wonderful gifts allow us to meet our goal of accommodating 30 preschoolers and a full-day curriculum for our kindergartners."
Currently, the school offers a half-day kindergarten and no pre-school. Extended day care, from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., is available to all students.
Baracchi bequeathed additional gifts of approximately $1 million each to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, the Children's Health Council, St. Jude Hospital, Seton Hospital and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Palo Alto, according to Hester.
Hester, associate director of the Stanford Hospital Spiritual Care Service, said he became acquainted with Baracchi in 1989, when she called him to administer prayers for her mother as she was dying at the hospital. Several years later, Baracchi invited him to her house for a thank-you dinner, and the dinners continued on a weekly basis until Baracchi's death this past summer.
Born in Italy, Baracchi moved to Palo Alto at the age of 3, Hester said. After high school, she held jobs on the copy desk of the San Francisco Chronicle and as a translator with the U.S. Navy before settling into a real-estate career in Palo Alto, he said.
"She was a very great Italian cook and very particular about her sauces," Hester said. In Baracchi's later years, Hester said he would bring dinners in, often from Sundance or Draeger's. She particularly liked Draeger's ravioli and meat sauce, he said.
One recent holiday season, Seton staff arranged for students to come sing to Baracchi, and later she was taken to visit the school.
"She was quite frail by that time," Hester said.
"These gifts speak to the value Mary placed on the children and the future of the school," he said.
The campus, formerly known as St. Albert the Great Catholic School, once offered K-8 education to Palo Alto children. After enrollment dwindled, the Daughters of Charity came in and repurposed the school to serve low-income students.
The Daughters provide bare-bones funding for the school's lay teachers. Resources for other programs are raised through volunteers and community donations, development coordinator Patricia Kenney said.