Pulitzer Prize winners Richard Russo and Anthony Doerr spoke at a May 25 fundraiser to benefit Wayfinder Schools.

Two Pulitzer Prize winners and 400 eager guests make for an exciting evening. Add the quiet and majestic setting of the oldest Catholic church in Portland and one terrifically stormy night, and it becomes an evening to remember.

Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Richard Russo and the evening’s guest of honor, Anthony Doerr, author of “All the Light We Cannot See,” which won the coveted prize in 2014, sat perched atop the altar of what was once St. Dominic’s Church and talked about writing. With an obvious sacredness to the setting, guests were riveted, leaning in to catch every word.

Earlier in the evening, a private authors reception was held in the church’s hall, where guests were able to chat with the writers and enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the event, a fundraiser for Wayfinder Schools, which helps at-risk students graduate from high school.

“We’re trying to make these kids’ lives better,” said Paul Andrews, the schools’ newly-appointed executive director, as guests mingled during the reception on May 25 at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland.

“Our students range in age from 16 to 20, and we provide them with the academics and the life skills they need to graduate. Eighty percent of our kids go on to some kind of secondary education.”

Susan Koch of Scarborough, who co-chaired the event with longtime board member Barbara Russo of Portland, chatted with Howsie Stewart, a longtime friend of Wayfinder Schools; Karen Watterson, food editor of Maine Magazine; and Pamela Wheeler, a volunteer educator at Wayfinder. Russo was joined by her husband and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Richard, while guest of honor Doerr was joined by his wife, Shauna, and their twin sons.

“This is the 14th year the Russos have contributed to this event,” said Andrews, praising their generosity in helping to secure talent like Doerr. “Barbara has been on our board for 16 years.”

“I love the mission of the school, and of course, I love Anthony Doerr,” said Katie Leinwand, host committee member, who was joined by Sally and Gabe Weiss of Yarmouth and Marilyn Soper of New London, New Hampshire.

“This is amazing,” said Elisabeth Sampson, lead teacher at Wayfinder’s residential campus in New Gloucester. “We are so grateful for the support, and it’s exciting to have an event built around two great literary minds.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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