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Xavier Magazine | November 20, 2017

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Saving Students

Saving Students
By France Griggs Sloat

Two years ago, Mark Costello did the unthinkable. He went to the financial aid office and told them he was getting ready to withdraw. He wondered if there was anything more they could do for him.

“I had started looking into transferring to Bowling Green.”

Costello was sad. He fell in love with Xavier when he arrived in 2008 with big dreams of becoming a doctor. He was a good student in high school and earned a Trustee scholarship plus two smaller grants that whittled his balance to a manageable amount.

Costello helped out by working part-time and summer jobs. The money was good, but it wasn’t enough. So he was totally surprised one day when his advisor told him he won a scholarship he hadn’t even applied for—the Joseph J. Peters, S.J., Endowed Scholarship for deserving junior and senior biology majors.

“I was speechless,” he says.

The scholarship, $5,500 a year for his junior and senior years, allowed Costello to stay at Xavier. Now a senior, Costello is preparing to graduate in May and has already been accepted to two medical schools.

Costello wanted to thank the donor, Dr. Joseph Marr, who set up the fund and named it after Fr. Peters, a former biology professor and chair of the department. So he wrote him a letter:

“Without your extremely charitable donation, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not be where I am today. People like you are the reason that many students are able to achieve their calling in life.”

It’s something Marr knows all about. Marr was only 16, a baby-faced teenager who finished high school early and came to Xavier for its pre-med program. He never had a biology class, but was expected to do college-level science. Help arrived in the form of Fr. Peters, who became a mentor for the young student.

“He taught us not only science but the philosophy of science and critical thinking and judgment and intellectual honesty,” Marr says. “He expanded the realm of the possible, and he instilled a love of learning and mental inquiry that has lasted my entire life.”

Like Costello, Marr paid his way through Xavier with scholarships and a part-time job working the night and weekend shift at the McGrath Health Center. But his ties to Peters were sealed when Marr faced a life decision he was unable to handle on his own. At the end of his freshman year, he got a letter from the U.S. Naval Academy welcoming him into the next year’s class. He asked Fr. Peters what to do.

“He said to project yourself forward about 20 years and look back and see which route you wish you had taken. I did that and decided I would rather have been a physician than a naval aviator,” Marr said. “He was very helpful because he forced me to make the decision.”

Marr finished his medical degree at Johns Hopkins University and practiced internal medicine for 20 years. He also earned a master’s in microbial biochemistry at Saint Louis University, taught at Washington University and served as head of infectious diseases at Saint Louis University and the University of Colorado. He entered the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry just before retiring in 2008.

Marr believes he owes his success to the people who made his education possible through their scholarships—and to Fr. Peters, who died in 1998. Wanting to show his gratitude, Marr set up a scholarship fund in Fr. Peters’ name.

“I thought I really wanted to help others the way I had been helped,” Marr says. “And I wanted to put Joe Peters’ name on it because he helped me and many others.”

Marr gave a lead gift of $20,000 and made a round of calls to former classmates, generating donations. It now totals about $250,000, but he hopes to build it to $700,000, the amount required to fund a full scholarship every year.

Receiving letters like Costello’s makes it all worthwhile, he says. “I’m glad he could be helped like that. It’s a good use of the money,” he says. “Someone helped me in the past, and I am passing it on. That’s why people should contribute to endowments. You’re putting this money into educating good citizens, and that’s one of the best uses of money.”

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