Regis Philbin’s Roots Involved Rich Tradition With Catholic Schools

By Melissa Enaje

Regis Philbin smiles during the Television Critics Association media tour in Pasadena, Calif., July 21, 2006. The popular TV host died July 24, 2020. He was 88. (Photo: CNS/Mario Anzuoni, Reuters)

Bronx-native, and longtime talk- and game-show host whose career in television spanned six decades, Regis Francis Xavier Philbin, died July 24 at 88 of cardiovascular disease at a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he lived.

He was a Catholic and longtime proponent and supporter of Catholic schools. Philbin was named after his father’s alma mater, Regis High School in Manhattan. He attended Our Lady of Solace Elementary School and Cardinal Hayes H.S. in the Bronx and graduated from Notre Dame University in Indiana. 

In a 2014 interview with Fox News, he spoke about the impact of his Catholic school education.

“I think it’s helped me a great deal. I think every person’s religion has a factor in their lives,” Philbin recalled. “I went to Notre Dame and those days you had to go to the Mass at least three times a week during the week. … I think I learned a lot from that. It made me a better person.”

Notre Dame University took to social media and issued a statement about his passing:

“Regis will be remembered at Notre Dame University for his unfailing support for the University and its mission, including the Philbin Studio Theater in our performing arts center. Our prayers are with the family of Regis Philbin.”

In 2002, Philbin had given $2.75 million for the construction of the Regis Philbin Studio Theater on the campus. It is home for lab and performance art productions in Notre Dame’s department of film, television and theater. The 100-seat facility was designed for maximum technical and seating flexibility.

Philbin joined the Navy before making his way to Hollywood and becoming a household name in the 1980s as co-host of “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.” After achieving success on television, he became a regular benefactor to the Catholic schools in which he was educated, especially his Bronx high school. The host supported students with scholarships on an annual basis and in 2000, gave the school $500,000 for an auditorium renovation.

Philbin also donated to Cardinal Hayes his winnings from game shows he participated in. In 2012, he gave the school $175,000 he won on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” and in 2011, he gave $50,000 from an appearance on “Celebrity Jeopardy.” The school named its auditorium for Philbin in 2010. 

During the Mass at the auditorium’s rededication in 2010, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said he “hopes that the legend of Regis will continue, they’ll know, they’ll cherish him in their memories and that he too will be an example just like the other teachers here, just like Jesus is. He asks us to be light to the world, Regis does that.”

Funeral plans were not announced, but in the same interview, Philbin addressed rumors that he wanted his ashes to be scattered over the Notre Dame campus when he dies. “That’s right,” he said. “I want to be there forever.”