BY FFIEDDY GRAY
A WALL STREET tycoon who describes himself as an atheist has given more than £12 million to Catholic education.
Robert W Wilson, a retired hedge-fund manager, said he wanted to offer the gift because "let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church there would be no western civilisation".
The Archdiocese of New York said that the contribution was the largest single donation it has ever received.
The money will go towards Cardinal Edward Egan's innercity scholarship programme to help poor children in New York.
Mr Wilson's generosity will enable 3,000 children to fill places in Catholic schools through scholarships beginning this September. "It was a chance for a very modest amount of money to get kids out of a lousy school system and into a good school system," said Mr Wilson.
"Shunning religious organisations would be abhorrent. Keep in mind, I'm helping to pay tuition. The money isn't going directly to the schools."
The total cost of the Cardinal's scholarship scheme is £80 million, of which more than £49 million has already been raised including Mr Wilson's gift.
Another donor, who wished to remain anonymous, contributed £2.2 million to the kitty.
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York expressed his gratitude for "such historic and far-sighted support from Mr Wilson for the education and future well-being of our neediest children in the archdiocese." Cardinal Egan said he didn't consider Mr Wilson's atheism a reason to refuse the donation. Cardinal Egan and Mr Wilson met for the first time last week and discovered a shared love of opera.
A diocesan spokesman said: "The fact is that Mr Wilson helping to give these children a chance is a good thing, and a chance to attend Catholic school is a good thing."
Robert Wilson, who was raised as an Episcopalian, gave £74 million in 2006 to charities, making him the 12th most generous donor in America, according to a survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
He has also made substantial gifts to the Nature Conservancy and World Monuments Fund.
Mr Wilson founded his fortune on a hedge fund he set up in 1968.
He turned an initial $15,000 investment into roughly $200 million by 1995. The cardinal's inner-city scholarship programme was started in 2005 to assist thousands of New York parents living on or below the poverty line who wanted their children to benefit from high-quality Catholic education, but could not afford tuition costs.
Today, the scheme is being funded by the combined work of Cardinal Egan, The Children's Scholarship Fund, The Inner City Scholarship Fund, The Endowment for Inner City Education, The Patrons Programme and the Arc hdiocesan Department of Education.
So far, the Cardinal's Scholarship Fund has awarded 3,700 scholarships, some of which would cost £1,100 a year.
Pupils at Catholic inner-city elementaty schools in the archdiocese have out-performed New York City public school students for the last five years.