by Joe Bollig
ST. LOUIS — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was pleased to receive the award, but thought it was probably a mistake.
Archbishop Naumann was given the Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff Award on April 18 during the ninth annual Archbishop’s Gala in St. Louis. He was also a keynote speaker.
The gala raises funds for the Today and Tomorrow Education Foundation for Catholic schools.
“They always try to honor someone who made a contribution to Catholic education,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“As I told them, they were honoring the wrong Naumann,” he said. “They should have honored my mother [Louise], who spent her life as a Catholic school educator, administrator and principal.”
The gala, held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, drew nearly 500 guests and raised more than $750,000 to support Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Archbishop Naumann, a native of St. Louis who became a pastor and eventually an auxiliary bishop there, worked with Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff and appreciates the importance of Catholic schools to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“As a priest, I was the pastor of a school that benefited from the Today and Tomorrow Foundation,” said the archbishop. “We served a lot of young people who, without those scholarships, would not be in school.
“When I became vicar general there, I helped with a campaign that raised money for scholarships for kids to go to Catholic schools.”
Later, in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, he was also honored to be able “to make sure the faith formation in our schools helped form [students] as disciples of Jesus.”
One of the best things the Catholic Church has done for people in the urban core is to keep Catholic schools open, he continued.
“[Our schools] create opportunities for students to find a way out of poverty,” said the archbishop. “A lot of parents who send their kids to our schools, even though they aren’t Catholic, make heroic sacrifices.”
It’s important for all Catholics to support Catholic schools, even if a school is not in their community, or they have no children in the schools.
“They are all our children,” said the archbishop. “Our schools would quickly become elitist if only the parents who could afford to pay for what it costs to provide a Catholic education could send their kids to our schools.
“The only way that doesn’t happen is that the larger Catholic community — and those who don’t actually have kids in the schools at this time in their lives — also come alongside parents and help support the schools.”
Catholic education has never been more important than now, he added, because of the increasing secularizing trends in society.
“While parents are the primary educators of their children, our schools can assist parents a great deal by helping kids to come to know that there is truth, and to help them find the avenues to truth through their minds, faith and revelation,” said the archbishop.
Because Catholic schools deal with the whole person, they can help non-Catholic children flourish and, hopefully, come to know Jesus.
“Hopefully, we can help [the students] succeed and use their gifts and talents in ways not only to provide for themselves and their families, but also to glorify God,” said Archbishop Naumann.