When Tammi (Cowan) Peters was growing up in Sarasota, Father Connie Dougherty was a household name. Her mother would fondly recall stories about the priest who once divided his time between Incarnation Catholic Church, local high school football games, and even the Sailor Circus, where his prayer was printed on the back of every program. With each of her mother’s retellings, Tammi could feel the love and kindness shared by this man whom she had never met, with a genuine feeling of community care never too far behind her.
It was during her sophomore year of college that Tammi encountered Father Connie’s story once again. This time she would become a part of it.
Reverend Cornelius “Father Connie” Dougherty was only 47 years old when he passed away from cancer in 1975. Just weeks earlier he had been honored during a Riverview High School football game, an evening that would forever be remembered as “Father Connie Night.” Before his passing, with his own personal check in hand, Father Connie created a scholarship fund in 1975 to award students in Sarasota County with opportunities to further their education, be it at college, university, or an institution of higher learning.
Reverend Cornelius “Father Connie” Dougherty (1928-1975) was an ordained priest at Incarnation Catholic Church and a community connector, sharing his time with local high schools and even Sailor Circus.
Upon his passing, the fruit of Father Connie’s service became tangible, as an outpouring of community support grew the fund exponentially. This legacy of community love still lives on today through the Father Connie Dougherty Memorial Scholarship Fund.
A newspaper article spotlighting "Father Connie Night" held at a Riverview v. Sarasota High football game on October 9, 1975.
With stories from her childhood ringing in her ears, it wasn’t a matter of if Tammi would apply for the scholarship, it was when. Upon submitting her application, she was invited to a committee interview. There, she – like so many applicants before and after her – learned more about Father Connie’s life and was instilled with the values and ideals for which he stood. Shortly after, she received the notice that she would receive a scholarship and become a “Father Connie Kid,” joining more than 200 hundred other students who have been given the same title since the scholarship’s inception.
Within every Father Connie Kid beats the heart of a servant. Grounded in humility and guided by a dedication to community, students like Tammi who are touched by Father Connie’s legacy embody his joy of life and all its possibilities to inspire and share love with others. These qualities, along with a well-rounded application, are what volunteers on the scholarship review committee look for in their award-winning applicants: the essence of a man ordained into the priesthood with a heart expansive enough to encompass an entire community.
Years later, Tammi now serves as chair of that very same committee. She views her volunteerism as one way to not only remain involved in her community, but also to live out Father Connie’s legacy to its fullest fruition.
As the committee often says, those students selected to become a Father Connie Kid are worth the investment, but there is also a meaningful return: you must do something with the gift you’ve been given. You must give back to your community, wherever you may call home.
That holds true even in a year when graduation ceremonies and cap and gown photos transitioned to drive-thru parades and virtual commencements. In April 2020, personal phone calls from committee members and hand-delivered commemorative plaques, yard signs, and programs complimented the first ever virtual Zoom Award Ceremony, during which recipients were able to meet their fellow awardees, as they were recognized for their achievements and hearts for service. In the words of one of this year’s awardees, Alexis Coleman, “It was so personal and incredibly thoughtful! I will remember it forever.”
The Father Connie Scholarship Committee surprises 2020 "Father Connie Kids" with hand-delivered personal plaques on a Zoom call in April 2020. The committee leveraged creative, digital solutions from Zoom calls to yard signs to provide memorable experiences for all award recipients.
As this past year has made abundantly clear, legacies are enduring just as they are resilient, as long as there are people willing to learn and share their stories. More than 45 years stand as a testament to Father Connie’s vision of empowering students with the resources for success while inspiring a call to action and service, a legacy of love that will live on for generations to come.
Since 1998, the Father Connie Dougherty Memorial Scholarship has called the Community Foundation of Sarasota County its home and since then has awarded 200 “Father Connie Kids” with scholarships totaling more than $800,700. Thanks to the generosity of our community, the Father Dougherty Memorial Scholarship continues to recognize students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to pursue their academic goals and dreams, and you too can be part of this legacy. Invest in a student’s future.
The 2021 Father Connie Dougherty Memorial Scholarship is now accepting applications. All Sarasota County high school seniors and graduates of Sarasota County public and private high schools who are under the age of 24 are welcome to apply on our website before the March 15 deadline.
Are you a Father Connie Kid (prior recipient in reality or in heart) who wants to give back?
Become a member of the Father Connie Dougherty Scholarship Committee. Apply here.