Priest influenced Catholic philanthropist
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
Until this year, Vince “Vinnie” Boryla has preferred to be the anonymous donor behind his many charitable contributions in Denver.
Even now, when he fondly describes the day when Msgr. C.B. “Father Woody” Woodrich asked for his assistance with an annual money giveaway or the time when he arranged for Regis University to receive a significant donation, he follows with “don’t put that part in the article.”
At 85, the multimillionaire and former Denver Nuggets general manager opened up about years of financial support to the Father Woody money giveaway and Christmas party and charities throughout Denver.
With all his contributions, Boryla said he makes sure to not “let the right hand know what the left hand is giving.”
He may go unnoticed during the annual giveaways at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception downtown where he sits in the back watching thousands of homeless receive $20 and McDonald’s gift certificates.
The giveaway began more than 25 years ago when Father Woody asked Boryla to help him raise $10,000 to distribute to the poor with the intention of giving them a little dignity.
“It just hit me as a great idea,” Boryla said.
Instead, Boryla donated all the funds needed to start the giveaway, he said, which later expanded to include an annual Christmas party downtown when hot meals and gifts are given to the poor.
Today, funding for the giveaway is provided by the Daniels Fund, a $1.2 billion foundation that provides grants to nonprofit organizations and college scholarships to deserving students in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Boryla established the Father Woody fund with Regis University for the benefit of many charities after Father Woody’s death, he said. Although he’s no longer the sole source of the money, contributions to the Father Woody fund has grown to some $4 million, he said.
Extra money left from the giveaway is used by the Cathedral Basilica to run its weekday food pantry and sandwich line, said Mary Ellen Lederman, parish administrator. The Cathedral Basilica has held the giveaway since 2001 after Holy Ghost Parish in Denver originally hosted it.
The relationship that grew between Father Woody and Boryla and his wife, Mary Jo, affected their faith and inspired them to continue to give in honor of his legacy.
Whenever Father Woody needed something, they helped him.
“I can’t recall any time that I turned him down,” Boryla said.
Father Woody later married the couple and would often join them for dinner at their sixth-floor condominium in south Denver.
Hanging on every wall of his home are paintings, pictures and keepsakes of Boryla’s family, his basketball days and times with Father Woody.
Boryla is the son of a bricklayer from Chicago where he was born in 1927. His parents, Polish immigrants, raised him Catholic. He later studied at the University of Notre Dame before attending the University of Denver and graduating with a degree in business administration. He played basketball at both schools.
He also became part of the gold-medal winning U.S. basketball team at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. Many of his awards are hanging behind one wall in his home.
Near the Olympic medal is a large black and white photo of him and his days playing for the New York Knicks from 1949 to 1954. He later coached the team and became the general manger of the Denver Nuggets.
Some may recognize him for his time as a general manager for the Nuggets and the Utah Stars in the 1980s before he was inducted into the basketball hall of fame.
He has since retired and often comments how “From the neck up I’m 10,000 percent; everything outside of that is a zero.”
After his basketball career, Boryla made his fortune in real estate when he bought land in Broomfield, Boulder and Highlands Ranch and developed it into mostly commercial properties, he said.
With his land, he was able to donate to Regis University after learning about the needs of the school and community from president Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran.
Boryla and his wife still have regular meetings with Father Sheeran to discuss charities to donate to, Mary Jo Boryla said.
“We’ve just recently become public with what he’s done over the years,” she said.
Although they won’t share specifics on all of their philanthropic efforts, they said daily Mass attendance at parishes, including Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, All Souls and St. Louis parishes in Englewood, influences their decisions about charitable giving.
Behind all their generosity is a desire to continue the legacy of Father Woody and his care for the poor.
“He was such a great giver,” Boryla said.