Gaudeamus celebrates 10-year milestone with a record-breaking crowd
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — As the energized beats of Topeka’s Mater Dei drumline filled the air, a record-breaking crowd of 1,388 guests paraded into a festive ballroom set for the 10th year reunion of Gaudeamus — the annual fundraiser of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
CEF executive director Michael Morrisey welcomed the crowd saying, “If someone could rush outside really quickly and grab 18 more people, we can break the 1400 barrier.”
He went on to thank some of the key people who organized the event, including 10-year chairperson Sandy Long and her husband Tom; CEF grants and social media manager Erica Kratofil; and CEF director of development Patty Morrisey.
Master of ceremonies Stan Cramer took over the stage, recalling the first CEF fundraiser in 2004 when organizers “hoped for a crowd of 300.”
Looking out over the audience, he said, “This is truly remarkable.”
Cramer, a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Overland Park, was a guest at one of the organization’s first fundraising dinners.
He was so impressed with CEF that he got involved in the production of its promotional video, then became the permanent Gaudeamus master of ceremonies.
In an interview before the event, Cramer talked about how important Catholic education is to him and his family — all of whom have experienced its benefits firsthand.
“We believe in it,” he said. “Certainly, it solidifies and builds our faith, but it’s also a quality education.”
Cramer, a well-respected veteran investigative reporter who built his career on consumer advocacy, has high praise for CEF.
“The organization works well,” he said. “I believe in Michael Morrisey and CEF and what they do.
“I believe there’s good management of the money, and that 100 percent of the donations go to scholarships — because the diocese picks up the administrative costs.
“And that’s a very important thing to me, being a consumer reporter all these years.”
Cramer welcomed Abbot Barnabas Senecal, who started the CEF dinner off with a prayer of thanksgiving, saying, “We build a story of generosity grounded in friendship, realized in action, sustained in prayer.”
While guests enjoyed dinner, they were treated to a viewing of CEF’s new video — a takeoff of the popular AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign.
In the video, Channel 41 anchor Christa Dubill sits at a round table interviewing young students from CEF schools — and she is often surprised by their responses.
The audience’s reaction was hearty laughter, especially when a blooper video was shown.
Throughout the evening, Dubill was on the floor doing guest interviews that were projected onto a big screen.
She spoke, for example, with principal Andrea Hillebert of Mater Dei, who described CEF scholarships as “life-changing.”
And she interviewed 2010 “Angels Among Us” honorees Ernie and Susan Straub, who recalled visiting CEF schools.
“The kids seemed so happy and energized,” Susan Straub said. “It was a great experience.”
Dinner was also complemented by a talented young speaker — this year’s “Face of CEF,” Bishop Ward senior Melanie Arellan.
She began by saying, “As one of many students who have received CEF scholarships, on behalf of all students, I thank you!”
With the help of the CEF, Melanie began her Catholic education in sixth grade at Christ the King School in Kansas City, Kan.
In eighth grade, she was baptized Catholic and celebrated confirmation with her classmates.
She is currently a Bishop Ward academic scholar headed to Fort Hays State University, where she plans to study social work and Spanish.
“I’ve become passionate about helping others,” she said. “I now want to work with and help disadvantaged families.
“CEF is truly life-changing. God bless you.”
After Melanie’s speech, Morrisey informed the audience that 1400 children attend Catholic schools with the help of CEF.
“Two hundred more kids want to attend, but can’t because we don’t have the funds,” he added.
With that incentive, guests enthusiastically responded to an invitation to fill out sponsor-a-child pledge cards at their tables.
As they did, archdiocesan superintendent of schools Dr. Kathy O’Hara spoke, describing Catholic students as “joyfully Catholic, diligently achieving and eager to learn.”
“This is not just what our church needs,” she said, “but what our country needs.”
O’Hara, with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, then announced this year’s School of Excellence Award, given for the second time to St. Patrick School in Kansas City, Kan.
Principal Kathy Rhodes gave a heartfelt acceptance speech thanking audience members for their support.
“I often tell children they become the company they keep,” she said. “Tonight, we are in good company, and together we are making great things happen.
“Thank you for being angels to our schools, for being hope to dream big and think boldly — but mostly for your courageous support that enables Catholic education to continue.
“When you get to your heavenly home, you will see the differences you’ve made.”
CEF board chairman Hamp Henning then took the stage to recognize the past decade of “Angels Among Us,” saying they “epitomize generosity of time, treasure and talent.”
Past honorees that were present came on stage to a standing ovation.
In recognition of their support, Overland Park’s Holy Spirit School concert choir, directed by Connie Maltby, accompanied vocalist Ron Gutierrez in “You Are My Special Angel.”
Archbishop Naumann then took a moment to bless gifts of rosaries handmade and distributed to the audience by CEF students.
As the evening wound down, Morrisey once again took the stage to announce the amount pledged for CEF scholarships.
“Everyone fasten your seatbelts,” he said as he announced pledges totaling a record-setting $865,351.
Archbishop Naumann ended the evening with a prayer.
The drumline, led by director Stan Cruz, sounded once again, leading guests out of the ballroom to a specialty-coffee social hour, where they enjoyed more conversation and entertainment by the choir.
Morrisey reminded everyone to be sure they join the celebration next year by saving the date — Oct. 25 — for Gaudeamus 2014.
It’s certain to be another record- breaking good time.