Catholic Education Foundation’s Gaudeamus dinner a record success
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — A record crowd, inspiring presentations and an outpouring of generous donations: There was much to celebrate at Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) seventh annual Gaudeamus Dinner this year.
Resurrection Catholic School at the Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan., received the Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann School of Excellence award, and John and Pat Menghini were recognized as “Angels Among Us” for their outstanding contributions to Catholic education.
CEF executive director Michael Morrisey opened the evening’s celebration by announcing a record crowd of 863 in attendance. Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, set the mood by singing a beautiful opening prayer blessing.
The evening’s master of ceremonies was local news celebrity Stan Cramer, a graduate of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., who told the audience, “Catholic education has always been dear to my heart.”
Entertainment was provided by vocalist Ron Gutierrez, a graduate of Hayden High School in Topeka, and the St. Thomas Aquinas Chorale directed by Joe Heidesch.
CEF showcased its work and accomplishments in a video montage of schools and children supported by the foundation.
The video was an inspiring illustration of what it means for children to receive a quality, faith-based education. It informed the audience that one in five CEF school students receives tuition assistance through a CEF scholarship.
Donating to CEF is a sure way to see that local money helps local kids, it explained, because one hundred percent of CEF donations go directly to scholarships. The archdiocese pays the operating costs.
After the video, Cramer encouraged patrons to visit CEF schools saying, “If you ever get a chance to give one of these schools a visit, we promise you’ll stay all day.”
Guest speaker Jackie Saavedra, a graduate of Christ the King School and Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., then discussed the difference CEF made in her life.
“CEF is a committed group of Catholics for whom I’m very grateful,” said Saavedra.
She recalled how her family struggled through financial difficulties and how a CEF scholarship to Bishop Ward changed the direction of her life.
“There had to be a deeper meaning to life than just living every day for yourself,” she said.
Saavedra is currently a student at Rockhust University in Kansas City, Mo., with her sights set on law school. She said she hopes one day to be able to help other students with scholarships through CEF.
Mark Ledom, past board chair, followed Saavedra, praising the Catholic Church’s commitment to helping those in need.
“If we can teach a child to read in third grade at a third-grade level,” he said, “the chance of that child being successful multiplies ten times.”
Ledom illustrated CEF’s rate of success with statistics from Bishop Ward, where 98.7 percent of incoming freshman graduate and 93 percent go on to further education. In public schools, only 50 percent of students continue their education.
“A man is never as tall,” concluded Ledom, “as when he stoops to help a child.”
One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of this year’s school of excellence by superintendent Dr. Kathleen O’Hara and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
Resurrection principal Ann Connor accepted the award on behalf of the school, offering thanks to the priests, teachers and staff.
“The heart of Resurrection is the parents who believed in the consolidation,” she said.
The archbishop and board chair Nelson Newcomer then presented the 2009 “Angels Among Us” honorees, John and Pat Menghini.
John Menghini spoke for the couple, saying he and his wife felt “humble to be in the company of those who have been honored before.”
Menghini talked about being inspired by his mother, a Catholic schoolteacher, who always said, “If you want to have benefits in heaven, you can’t have them on earth.”
He said he and his wife hoped their recognition would bring more attention to past successes and future challenges of CEF.
“Helping kids get to Harvard is important,” he said, “but there’s nothing as important as getting kids to heaven.”
The evening concluded with the archbishop blessing the guardian angel medals that were distributed to guests by students from CEF-sponsored schools. Gutierrez, accompanied by the St. Thomas chorale, sang “Angels Among Us.”
It was announced that the evening had raised $96,205.
Archbishop Naumann closed the evening by thanking the guests for being “messengers of love and care.”
“Let everything you do,” he said, “be to the glory of God.”