Catholic Education Foundation honors longtime supporters
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LEAWOOD — Church of the Nativity parishioner John Murphy isn’t used to being called an angel.
“When I was in Catholic grade school, I don’t think that ‘John Murphy’ and ‘angel’ were ever used in the same sentence,” he said.
But today he and his wife Bridget are considered angels by the Catholic Education Foundation, and this month will be recognized as the Angels Among Us honorees at the 11th annual CEF Gaudeamus event.
“So to have that term used now is really an honor and quite humbling,” said John.
Bridget agreed. She and her husband are looking forward to the Gaudeamus event, she said. But not to the attention.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “You’re supposed to do what you do in the dark, not in the light.”
When the light shines on the Murphys, it illuminates two hearts joined in a commitment to community service.
The couple met on a blind date when John, an attorney, first relocated here from New Jersey.
It wasn’t love at first sight.
“No,” said Bridget. “I think it took two dates.”
The Murphys have two grown children now, Helen and Jack. The family shares a deep commitment to their Catholic faith and the belief that they are called to live it out by helping others.
“We’ve always tried to recognize organizations that are doing the right thing in town,” said John. “And if we find out they have a specific need, we try to help them with it.”
CEF has been a favorite cause of the couple since its inception.
As chair of Kansas City law firm Shook Hardy & Bacon, John is a successful business and community leader.
He values his Catholic education and the basis it provided for his accomplishments. And he thinks any parents who believe in the benefits of Catholic education should be able to provide it for their children.
To that end, he served on the CEF board from 1999 to 2011.
“I was born and raised in an urban environment,” he said. “And I was able to go to a Catholic elementary school.
“I recognized the virtues of it, so this was an opportunity to get involved as an adult in trying to do the same thing for others.”
“John was part of the group that really helped build the foundation for CEF so it can be what it is today,” said CEF executive director Michael Morrisey. “He was totally involved as a board member.”
While John served on the CEF board, Bridget was equally involved as board president for the Down Syndrome Guild of Kansas City, a cause close to her heart because Jack has Down syndrome.
Even after John left the CEF board, the couple continued to be intimately involved with the foundation.
That’s because the couple recognizes the importance of having a strong Catholic faith.
“I think Catholic formation is terribly important for the individual and for our world,” said Bridget. “The most important things I’ve been through — whether they were difficult times or they were happy times — were all engulfed in my Catholic faith.”
The couple recently made a visit to a CEF school, St. Paul in Olathe.
It was really invigorating to see what was being accomplished there,” said John. “The education these kids were getting in and of itself was impressive.
“But then that education in a Catholic setting was really heartwarming.”
“They loved the school,” said Morrisey. “They loved the kids. They just love helping people that need help.”
Though never ones to seek attention, if it means helping CEF raise funds, the Murphys are willing to take the spotlight for one night.
“That’s how I see it,” said Bridget.
“I look at this as an honor that gets shared with a whole lot of people who came before me and, more importantly, who will come after me,” said John.
“We still have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 kids that want to go to [CEF] schools right now and don’t have the financial means to do it.
“The future is every bit as important as the past for those kids.”
Bridget agreed, adding that a donation to CEF is guaranteed to change a child’s life.
“There is no question,” she said. “It will propel them forward in their life’s journey — and on to heaven.”
Organizers plan for biggest crowd ever
OVERLAND PARK — This year, once again, the much-anticipated Gaudeamus event will break its own record.
“This will be the biggest crowd that we’ve ever had,” said CEF executive director Michael Morrisey.
“Literally, we will have sold out the three ballrooms at the Overland Park Convention Center.”
Indeed, the goal this year is 1,400 in attendance, with organizers predicting even more.
CEF’s biggest fundraiser of the year will start off with cocktails and conversation.
Then the entertainment will begin with Topeka’s Mater Dei drumline leading guests to the ballroom for dinner and dessert.
Back by popular demand, the Holy Spirit school choir will be performing throughout the evening, along with vocalist Ron Gutierrez, a graduate of Hayden High School in Topeka.
A new video has also been produced to inform and entertain.
“The video this year is of a family in a non-Catholic school that wanted to come to a Catholic school,” said Morrisey. Now, [through CEF scholarships] they’ve had that opportunity.”
In addition to the video, Channel 41’s Action News anchor Christa Dubill will be entertaining dinner guests with spot interviews projected on the big screen.
The Angels Among Us honorees — John and Bridget Murphy — will be recognized, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will be on hand for one of the evening’s most anticipated moments, the announcement of CEF’s 2014-2015 School of Excellence.
And throughout the evening, guests will be able to show their support for CEF.
The sponsor-a-child opportunity will be available again with the donor family offering an even bigger challenge.
“The same anonymous family is set to challenge our audience again,” said Morrisey. “They have increased the challenge from $200,000 to $215,000.”
After dinner, guests will be invited to mingle at the traditional post-Gaudeamus social hour — but with a new twist.
In addition to the record crowd, this year’s Gaudeamus will have a record number of young people, so a special social hour has been arranged just for them.
“We’ll have the traditional coffee bar in the lobby,” said Morrisey. “And Ron Gutierrez will be entertaining as he’s done in the past.
“And then downstairs we’ve got rooms that are reserved for our young people. And they’ll have their own setup with music where they’ll have an opportunity to interact and network with each other.”
Tickets are selling fast, but there’s still time for anyone who is interested to be a part of the celebration and help make Catholic education available to every child.
“People are buying into the mission of CEF,” said Morrisey. “They care about the families and kids.
“The numbers are always important, but I think the most important thing is that this will help sustain what we’re doing long-term.”