CEF board gets schooled

At Mater Dei School, kindergartner Lydia Dennis whispers to Finley Smith during story time in the library. Support for schools takes up a significant percentage of parish income, but parents and other parishioners are willing to make the investment in their children.
At Mater Dei School, kindergartner Lydia Dennis whispers to Finley Smith during story time in the library. Support for schools takes up a significant percentage of parish income, but parents and other parishioners are willing to make the investment in their children.

Board bus tour of four Topeka schools shows CEF dollars at work


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

TOPEKA — The Catholic Education Foundation board’s bus tour of four Catholic schools here on April 4 included a power lunch where some pretty weighty questions were considered.

Mater Dei fourth-grader Isabel Munoz’s “lunch buddy” for the day was Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, and her big question was this: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

She even helped him with the right answer.

“Multi-power,” said Munoz, “so he could be invisible, and fly and have, like, laser-beam eyes and stuff.”

“She taught me that,” said Archbishop Naumann. “She taught me the right answer for the superpowers.”
This was the third time since 2011 that the CEF has bundled its board on a bus for a field trip to archdiocesan schools, and the second such journey to Topeka.

The CEF, which started out as The Gardner Institute in 1998, was established to provide scholarships and financial assistance to children of families with limited means so they could receive an education at an archdiocesan Catholic school.

The 18 board members and two CEF officers visited Most Pure Heart of Mary (a new CEF school), Mater Dei, St. Matthew and Holy Family. Archbishop Naumann joined the tour at Mater Dei. The journey began and ended at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan.

During their school visits, the board members divided into two groups, which were then given a tour of the school led by the principal or a teacher. At each school, the board members attended briefings by pastors and the principals, with question-and-answer periods.

“I was very impressed [that] the pastors were present at all the schools,” said board member Stephanie Goodenow, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. “The pastors and the principals seemed to work really well together and were going the same direction. The parishes support the schools, and the schools support the parishes.”

The CEF board had the opportunity midway through the bus journey to attend Mass in the Mater Dei (Holy Name Church) chapel, with Archbishop Naumann celebrating and pastor Father John Pilcher concelebrating.

The Mass was followed by lunch, during which each CEF tour member was paired with a Mater Dei student.

“This is our effort to get our board members closer to our students and to our schools, and help them better understand the mission that CEF serves, which is helping kids go to Catholic schools,” said Michael Morrisey, CEF executive director.

From visible symbols of the faith like statues and crucifixes, to the prayers spoken by the teachers and students, it was clear that “Catholicity” was very strong in each school.

“We were with the eighth-graders as they were transitioning between classes, and the teacher was talking to us about Kansas assessments,” said board member Zena Weist, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

“As we were walking out, she started class with a prayer, and we heard, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’” she continued. “It took our breath away. . . . You can start your class with prayer in a Catholic school, and you can’t do that in a public school.”

Currently, 20 of the 37 archdiocesan primary and middle schools have students who receive CEF assistance. The CEF awarded $1,155,156 in scholarships to 1,345 students during the 2013-2014 school year.

Heather Huscher, St. Matthew School principal, told board members, “Our schools simply could not exist without your help.”

Several board members commented on the passion and commitment of the schools’ teachers and administrators, and their efforts to make the most of space, equipment and funding.

The schools have made serious efforts to utilize technology in instruction while trying to keep costs low. For example, Most Pure Heart of Mary School principal Eric White learned to install interactive whiteboards to save on the significant cost of installation.

Teaching the faith is the primary goal, followed by academic excellence and service.

The greatest challenge all Catholic schools face is funding. The four schools rely on a variety of revenue streams: tuition, scholarships, estate gifts, fundraisers and parish subsidies.

Parish subsidies are particularly important.

For Most Pure Heart of Mary School, 70 percent of its budget is from parish subsidy, which is 64 percent of the parish budget. For St. Matthew School, 43.77 percent of its budget is parish subsidy, which represents 50 percent of the parish budget.

Since the cost of a Catholic education is only going to go up, the challenge the schools face is to build new, sustainable funding models.

“My eye personally is turning toward the broad question of the funding model for all the schools in the archdiocese,” said board member Ricky Paradise, from Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park.

“I think it’s beyond what the CEF does now, but I think it’s our chance and opportunity to lead or contribute to that discussion as the archdiocese works through this tricky issue.”

The archbishop, at the last stop at Holy Family School, concluded the day by thanking the board members and CEF office executive director Michael Morrisey and development director Patty Morrisey.

“What was clear to me as we were going through those schools — and a number of principals said it — we’d have a lot fewer schools in the archdiocese if we didn’t have CEF,” said Archbishop Naumann.

“We would have to be making a lot different choices in terms of the availability of Catholic education,” the archbishop continued. “So . . . CEF really is making a huge difference.

“You’re an essential part of what’s happening in those schools.”

For more information on CEF, contact Michael Morrisey at (913) 647-0383, or visit the website at: www.cefks.org.

 

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