by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — After 10 years of building the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) into a first-class nonprofit scholarship program benefiting schools in underserved areas, executive director Michael Morrisey and his wife Patty, director of development, decided it’s time to turn over the reins.
“We’re very pleased that CEF is in a really good place,” said Michael Morrisey. “And it’s time for us to get the next person that’s going to take it to the next level.”
It’s no surprise the CEF executive committee felt a tremendous weight of responsibility in trying to replace the Morrisey team.
“Where do you go to find someone with their dynamism, leadership ability and the credibility they have with our donor base?” asked Terry Sexton, CEF executive committee vice chair.
Executive Committee chair Joan Wells soon found out how really difficult that would be.
“I led the interview process for 10 months,” she said. “We had 171 formal applicants for the position and 52 interviews.”
Many candidates were outstanding. But none seemed a perfect fit.
And then something happened. A devout Catholic and passionate education advocate named Mary Metz died.
And through the work of the Holy Spirit, she became the catalyst for bringing the perfect candidate forward.
Providence steps in
Sexton, who was a close friend to the Metz family, was talking with Mary’s children before her funeral and mentioned CEF’s search for an executive director.
“And they said, ‘We know just the guy for you,’” recalled Sexton. “‘He’s in Kansas City this weekend.’
“‘And you’re going to meet him at the funeral.’”
Indeed, Kirk, vice president for legal affairs and general counsel at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida, just happened to be visiting relatives in Kansas City when Metz died.
Kirk and his wife Elizabeth, who is from the area, also knew the Metz family and decided to attend Mary’s funeral.
“I met him,” said Sexton. “And I was really impressed with him — not just with his credentials, but with his poise and confidence, and his background of a strong commitment to Catholic education.
“So I got Michael Morrisey on the phone.”
Kirk and his wife were open to a change.
“Over the past year,” said Kirk, “my wife and I had been talking about new opportunities and what we could do to better serve the church.
“This looked like something appealing.”
Two formal interviews took place that weekend and negotiations continued over the next two months, including interviews with the executive committee and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
Then an offer was made.
“And Bill unknowingly accepted the offer on what would have been Mary Metz’s birthday,” said Sexton. “I don’t believe for one minute that’s a coincidence.”
“God’s providence,” reflected Kirk. “In a special way, he’s brought my wife and our family back to Kansas City.
“We’re absolutely thrilled about it.”
The Kirks share a passion for the pro-life cause and feel blessed to have been able to adopt three children over the years: William, 8; Benedict, 7; and Alice, 6.
They’re currently in the process of adopting a fourth child, Nicholas.
Transition to a bright future
“I am delighted that Bill Kirk has accepted the invitation to lead the Catholic Education Foundation,” said Archbishop Naumann. “CEF has enjoyed remarkable success and growth under the leadership of Michael Morrisey.
“Bill Kirk brings a passion for Catholic education as well as a unique set of leadership and communication skills that will serve the foundation well.”
Kirk’s five-year stint at Ave Maria University followed more than 20 years in senior administration at the University of Notre Dame and several years in the private sector.
He earned degrees in both accounting and law from Notre Dame and has an impressive resume working in both fields.
“Bill has been very successful in all of his previous responsibilities,” said the archbishop. “It is a tribute to the success of CEF that we have been able to attract someone of Bill Kirk’s caliber to lead the foundation into the future.”
“We had this magical combination we were looking for, which was a track record of leadership and a long-term commitment to Catholic education,” she said. “The bonus is to find someone like Bill who also had a track record of development and really has an incredibly inspirational faith life and walks the walk.
“To find that all in one person — wow — it was worth the 10 months. He was worth the wait. I’m glad we were patient.”
Kirk will be introduced to CEF patrons at this year’s Gaudeamus celebration on Oct. 29.
“There will be a process we’ll work through from a transition standpoint,” said Morrisey. “Patty and I have agreed with the executive committee that we’ll be advisers for a period of time.
“CEF is our baby, and we want to make sure it’s done the right way.”
Archbishop Naumann is in no doubt the transition will lead to a bright future for CEF.
“I am confident that [Kirk] has the ability not just to sustain the status quo, but to help CEF grow its capacity to help make a Catholic education accessible to more children and families,” he said.
Kirk, who is a product of Catholic education and has been involved in Catholic education his entire life, is thrilled with that prospect.
“I honestly believe Catholic education is so important in the formation of our children,” he said. “They need what the secular schools have to offer, but a Catholic education prepares them for this world and then, more importantly, gets them ready for the next.
“The opportunity to be able to do that for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it — it’s kind of dream come true.”