SAN DIEGO — Tommi Adelizzi, chairman of "A Shamrock Celebration," the third annual dinner dance for the benefit of the St. Vincent de Paul Center, cheerfully admitted that knocking on wood is not always sufficient insurance for a party held on Friday the 13th.
"I've been laughing all day because it's the 13th, and almost everything has gone wrong," she said just moments before a sold-out crowd of 525 began spilling into the Hotel Inter-Continental's Grand Ballroom. "It's been just like Murphy's Law: Whatever could go wrong did go wrong. But I know it will be a lucky day for St. Vincent de Paul."
Adelizzi's litany of mishaps sounded amusing, mostly, at least to those who hadn't had to deal with them. One that suited the day perfectly involved the adventures of the men sent by the center to pick up some essential donated decorations.
Upon arriving at the donor's establishment, the men were turned away by an employee who had not been informed of the arrangements and was of no mind to release his employer's property. The issue ultimately was resolved.
But Adelizzi said she counted on the luck of the Irish--in her case borrowed, especially from St. Vincent director Father Joe Carroll--to get her through the day. It seemed to work, too; the party attracted a good cross-section of the community, raised more than $100,000, and entertained its guests quite stylishly with performances by Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge and multiple gold record winner Frankie Laine.
Carroll introduced the evening's Irish motif by wishing arriving guests an "early Happy St. Patrick's Day." The Bronx-born priest, who has become quite a favorite in fund-raising circles, brought a model of the new St. Vincent de Paul Center, which is rising at the corner of 12th Avenue and J Street in downtown San Diego. Primarily designed to provide shelter for 350 homeless people, the center also will serve meals for an additional 1,000 every day, as well as offer a school for homeless children, a medical clinic, job counseling and other services for the poor.
"We're only 130 days from opening and everything is moving smoothly now," Carroll said. "We'll probably still be a million dollars or so short of what we need when we open, but we'll get by.
"We'll raise another million by this summer, and we'll just keep raising money," he said with a big smile that implied he should be taken quite seriously.
Later, Carroll formally announced that the center will be dedicated July 22. "Plan your vacations around it," he told the crowd. "We've set that date in concrete and we hope the contractor agrees."
Bishop Leo T. Maher arrived sporting a misty green carnation in his buttonhole and was congratulated both on his 25th anniversary as a bishop and on the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of San Diego. Maher offered the invocation, followed by a formal dinner underwritten by hoteliers Doug and Betsy Manchester, both longtime supporters of the center.
Breaks in the performance by the Steven Spencer Orchestra were filled with brief speeches, including one made by center board chairman James Mulvaney.
"The center is really ecumenical," he said. "We serve people of all races, all colors, all religions. It's often been said that the true measure of a society is the care and help it gives to its poorest. What is important about the St. Vincent de Paul Center is the philosophy that we're not just trying to help the poor but trying to break the cycle of poverty. That is the true essence of our effort."
Philanthropist Joan Kroc, who has given $3 million to the center, also was introduced (as she approached the podium, the band played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," which one observer found ironic, since Kroc has put the Padres up for sale). She proved quite the raconteur, amusing the crowd with a rather admirable stand-up routine about what happened when she asked Carroll to bless her new airplane.
Actress McCambridge, whose birthday is on St. Patrick's Day, moistened several hundred eyes by reciting, in a throaty brogue, two poems of her own composition. One, written at the request of the Irish Embassy and first recited at Constitution Hall in Washington, reflected on the situation in Northern Ireland. The other, titled "My Own Prayer as an Irish Woman," expressed McCambridge's appreciation of her heritage and included the lines, "The north and the south both are blended in me, all the rage and passion; the need to be free."
The formal program ended with an hourlong presentation by Laine, who sang many of the songs that made him a star, including "Mule Train," "Cry of the Wild Goose" and, of course, "Rawhide." The performance earned him several standing ovations.
Banker Bob Adelizzi shared chairmanship duties with his wife and served as the evening's master of ceremonies. Others on the committee were Norma Assam, Junko Cushman, Jan Madigan, Dode Shaw, Susan Sterling and Dorene Whitney.