Retired hedge fund titan Robert W. Wilson lost his faith in God years ago, yet he believes in Catholic schools and gave $5.6 million to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York this summer.
It’s the latest of many gifts from Wilson to the city’s Catholic hierarchy and educators, this one aimed at funding the Catholic Alumni Partnership, a program he founded that helps elementary schools track down their 750,000 alumni and recruit them as donors.
“Most of what the Catholic schools teach are the three Rs,” said Wilson, 83, in a phone interview, referring to reading, writing and arithmetic. “And they do it better than the union-controlled inner-city schools.”
He made his fortune as a growth-stock investor at his firm, Wilson Associates, taking $15,000 in 1949 and turning it into $225 million by 1986 when he retired at age 60.
He stopped investing after retirement and entrusted his wealth among a dozen money managers. He then started giving money to conservation causes such as the World Monuments Fund, Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Wilson said he has donated more than $550 million to charity and wants to give away 70 percent of his wealth before he dies.
Wilson began making donations to the New York archdiocese in 1997 with a gift of $10,000, and he continued at that level for several years. Then Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, asked him to consider giving more money to the schools. Wilson responded in 2007 with a $22.5 million gift to the archdiocese’s Cardinal’s Scholarship Program. He later saw a need for a better alumni support network.
His atheism wasn’t an issue with the archdiocese. Rev. Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, said in an e-mail statement to Bloomberg News that he was “grateful” to Wilson “for his vision” and the archdiocese needs to “enlist broad and sustained support from our alumni to secure the future” of the schools.