About the Catie’s Wish Foundation

Our Foundress

Catie O'Brien's second grade picture

Mary Catherine O’Brien (Catie) was born on April 23, 2001. When she was seven, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT). Because of the location in the spine rather than the brain, doctors determined that Catie’s diagnosis was especially rare, and she was referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment.

St. Jude doctors and nurses went to work, using every tool they had to eradicate Catie’s cancer and to care for her as if she were their own child. Catie underwent 31 radiation treatments, as well as high-dose chemotherapy and a progenitor cell transplant following each round of chemotherapy—but unfortunately her tumor returned.

When it was clear nothing more could be done to cure Catie, her family decided with heavy hearts—and Catie’s blessing—to stop treatment in December 2008. Catie went home to spend Christmas and the time that remained with her family.

On her last day at the hospital, Catie had pictures taken in the chapel. She wore her First Holy Communion dress. She visited her doctors and nurses to give them gifts and to thank them for all they had done for her. Then she said goodbye.

Back home in Pennsylvania, she cherished the time with her family. She used a wheelchair because she could no longer walk. Soon, her sight failed and she was blind.

Knowing we would not be able to save her life, Catie wanted to help St. Jude save the lives of other children who are battling pediatric cancer. So when discussion turned to what Catie might want as her final wish, Catie’s mother expected her to wish for something for herself. A special toy, a dream vacation … the sky was the limit.

But after a month of thinking, Catie came to her mother and said she had decided she wanted to help other children and families, just as St. Jude had helped her. She said she wanted to raise enough money to run St. Jude all day on April 23—her eighth birthday.

Taken aback, Catie’s mother explained that it costs $1.4 million to run St. Jude each day. And at that moment, Catie’s seven years shone innocently through.

“Is that a lot of money?” asked Catie.

She decided she wanted everyone to give to St. Jude in honor of her eighth birthday until the donations reached that magic $1.4 million mark. She also hoped that everyone would color April 23 purple on their calendar because purple was her favorite color, and she wanted to be remembered.

It would be a mistake to think of Catie as a saint while she was alive—she was a real-life kid who loved playing with her sisters and brother. But Catie’s legacy speaks volumes about her loving and unselfish nature. Even at 7 years old, knowing she could not be cured, she believed St. Jude provides something very important—research and treatment for the worst diseases that affect children.

Catie’s story could break your heart, but her parents hope it won’t. They want something very good to come from Catie’s story and from her final wish.

Inherent in Catie’s birthday wish is so much hope—she envisioned a world without pediatric cancer. She told her doctors she was going to raise enough money to help cure pediatric cancer and put them out of a job. She believed we would get there some day.

Board of Advisors

Marissa Cherian

C. Sean Closkey

C. Sean Closkey, President, TRF Development Partners (TRFDP). TRF DP is a regional non-profit developer that assists low and moderate income families to build wealth and opportunity through the purchase of affordable housing. Prior to joining TRF, he served as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. His accomplishments include creating and implementing New Jersey’s $2.5 billion Smart Growth Housing Policy. Prior to leading the NJHMFA, Mr. Closkey was Executive Director of St. Joseph’s Carpenters Society in Camden. He holds a BS in finance from Villanova University and a MA in economics from the University of Texas at Austin.

Sean is Catie O’Brien’s uncle.  He and his wife Pilar have 3 children Helen (8), Jack (6) and Bobby (3).  Their family lives in Delran, NJ.

Robert Closkey

Gene Groves

Steve and Rosemary Kern

Steve and Rosemary Kern have been married for 31 years and have three children: Stephanie, Kevin and Kristen.  For the last 18 years, they have lived in Flemington, NJ and have been active parishioners at St. Magdalen de Pazzi Roman Catholic Church there.

Rosemary is the Coordinator of the  Fertility Awareness Program at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.  She and her staff teach in Catholic and public middle schools and New Brunswick High School a program of self awareness and responsibility called Project Respect Ed.  She is also a member of the St. Magdalen’s Parish Council,
and is the head of the parish’s Commission for Evangelization and Adult Catechesis.

Steve is an attorney for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  He was in his office on the 62nd floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 at 8:46 am when the first plane struck.  By the grace of God, he made it out (barely) after the collapse of Tower Two, and was awarded the Port Authority’s Civilian Commendation Medal for his actions that day.  Steve is in his last of five years of formation for the diaconate in the Diocese of Metuchen.  God willing, he will be ordained a deacon on June 12, 2010.

We were blessed to meet Kevin and Christine during their time in New Jersey.  The openness and holiness that everyone has seen in their emails over the last two years was evident to us in social settings, in Natural Family Planning classes, and in preparations for and participation in Engaged Encounter weekends (preparation for the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church).  We had the distinct privilege of presenting several Engaged Encounter weekends with Christine and Kevin.  On their first weekend as a presenting team in 2002, we experienced the joy of having Catie with us on the weekend. That weekend – and every time we had the pleasure of having Catie and her family at our home – the thing that stood out for us was that smile!  Together with the freckles, that smile was a magnet.  Catie was one of those special kids whose positive attitude and sense of fun made you sit up and take notice.  Her struggle in the last nine months of her life were an inspiration to us as they were to so many.  From that loss, we are thrilled to see such gain.  We are humbled and happy to be part of the continuing story of Catie O’Brien.

Father Keith Laskowski

Kevin O’Brien

Kevin O’Brien is the extremely blessed husband of Christine and the father of Catie and her brother Max and sisters Maggie, Mia, Molly, and M.E.  Married for 13 years and a father for 12, Kevin was raised in central New Jersey and has been migrating slowly westward ever since.  Now a resident of Mechanicsburg, PA and a member of St. Joseph’s Parish, Kevin works as the Director of Merchandising for the Rite Aid Corporation and assists in the on-going operation of the Catie’s Wish Foundation.  When not at work or actively fulfilling Catie’s Wish, Kevin spends as much time as he can with his best friend Christine and the Fab 5.

Mike Pascarella

Michael Pascarella, Jr. has a hard time saying no! At 18 years old, someone asked him to come to the Malvern Retreat House for a Catholic weekend retreat. Mike said yes, and he has been going to Malvern ever since. In July of 2000, Mike was praying in the chapel at Malvern, and in prayer, God asked him to become a permanent deacon some day. Mike said yes, and Lord willing, he will be ordained in 2012. In 2002, the rector of the Malvern Retreat House asked Mike if he would coordinate a family retreat in the new Family Life Center there. Mike said yes, and next October will mark his 8th annual family retreat. In June of 2008, Kevin O’Brien, the father of one of the retreat families, contacted Mike and asked him to start a prayer chain for his seven-year old daughter, Catie, who had just been diagnosed with brain cancer. Mike said yes, and started an email group that grew to over 250 people. A month after Catie died, the O’Brien’s asked Mike if he would chair one of the first fundraisers for the Catie’s Wish Foundation. Mike said yes, and so far, he has chaired three such events. In July of 2009, Kevin and Christine O’Brien asked Mike to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors to the Catie’s Wish Foundation, and Mike, with a giant smile on his face, said yes once again.

All of the “yes” responses that Mike gave over the last 32 years were in response to a call to serve…made through human lips, but inspired by a loving God, who accomplishes His divine will on Earth through each and every one of us. But the biggest “yes” in Mike’s life did not come from him. It came from a little girl who knew that she was dying from cancer…a little girl who didn’t just accept her cross, she embraced it. And in doing so, Catie O’Brien was lifted up with Christ onto the Cross, so she could share in His resurrection. By her example, she made Mike’s “yes” a very easy word to say.

It took nearly a generation for Mike and the O’Brien’s to come together after that initial “yes” to God’s call. And, it may take three times as long for “Catie’s Wish” to be realized with a lot of hard work, and many hours of prayer. But as Mike told Kevin and Christine, “It isn’t work when you do it out of love.”

Mike Pascarella lives in Montgomery County, PA with his wife Susan of nearly 26 years. They have been blessed with twin sons. Mike has spent 30 years in law enforcement on both the county and federal levels. He and his family are members of Epiphany of Our Lord parish in Plymouth Meeting, PA. Mike is in the fourth year of a six-year formation program at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, moving toward ordination as a permanent deacon, Lord willing. He has also served as the president of his local fire company, and on several township boards. Mike really has a hard time saying no!

Jim Tortorici

Lynn Tortorici