CEF celebrates ‘angels among us’

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — Three hundred and fifty patrons of Catholic education gathered recently for the third annual Gaudeamus dinner and recognition celebration hosted by the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).

“I’m still blown over; it was just magnificent,” said CEF director of development Jennifer Knight. “Everyone was so charged with passion for Catholic education that it was a magical, magical night.”

This year’s Gaudeamus event singled out Charles J. Berkel, William H. Dunn Sr. and Leonard B. McKinzie for special recognition, but also celebrated the many “angels among us” — not only donors and educators, but all those who help CEF fulfill its commitment to ensure that Catholic education is accessible to all children.

The auction got off to an auspicious start when $11,500 was raised with a single auction item — dinner for 10 at the archbishop’s home, hosted by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher, and Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB.

“This is something that has never been done before,” said Michael Morrisey. CEF’s chief executive officer.

“There are a lot of dinners and lunches that go on with these guys individually, but never has anybody had the trio together to do this.”

Honoree Charles Berkel was the highest bidder for the dinner.

Following the auction, two students from Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan. — Cristina Avalos and Heather Odle — gave personal accounts of how their Catholic education had impacted their lives. Then, Superintendent Kathleen O’Hara presented the 2007 Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence Award.

This year the honors went to St. Patrick School in Kansas City, Kan., for demonstrating an outstanding school-wide focus on the Catholic mission, academic progress, resource management and stewardship involvement.

“St. Pat’s is very deserving,” said Morrisey. “They’ve performed very well from an academic standpoint and from a spiritual standpoint — and in our minds that’s pretty cool stuff.”

The evening’s highlight was CEF board chair Mark Ledom’s presentation of awards to the 2007 “Angels Among Us” honorees. Speeches were given by Berkel, Dunn and Mark McKinzie, on behalf of his father.

“They were all just extremely poignant in their assessments of where we are with Catholic education,” said Knight. “They are involved with education and every aspect of Catholic social programs in Kansas and Missouri. These three individuals have spared no effort, no expense, to share their blessings with those who have nothing.” Morrisey agreed, saying that the honorees’ contribution to Catholic education is far more than monetary. “Each of these individuals cares about kids and understands that the future of the church is going to be determined by the kids that are coming up and those kids getting a Catholic education,” he said.

Morrisey said that to a man, however, the recipients cared less about recognition and more about getting the job done.

“We’ve got angels all around us but we never see them, you never hear from them really. They just take care of stuff.

“And that’s what these guys have done,” said Morrisey. “They love to just fly under the radar screen, do their thing in the background. And as for recognition — they don’t care about that.”

Following the presentation of awards, guests were treated to a viewing of the “Angels Among Us” DVD, which spotlights all 15 foundation schools. Then archangel holy cards and medals blessed by the archbishop were distributed to all in attendance.

The evening was concluded with a closing prayer by Archbishop Naumann.

When asked about his commitment to Catholic education, honoree McKinzie said simply, “It’s where I started.”

His wife Ellen explained that McKinzie’s own life was dramatically impacted by his Catholic education through high school. He is passionately committed, she said, to seeing that all children have the opportunity to get the same quality education he did.

“He grew up in the country,” she explained. “And he had a hard time getting to high school because he was one of six children, and they needed him working on the farm.”

McKinzie argued with his father and even threatened to run away from home to live with an aunt in order to go to a Catholic high school, so his father gave in to his request. He was the first in his family to get a high school education.

“But it wasn’t without sacrifice,” said his wife. “If there was work to do on the farm, that had to come first.”

With McKinzie paving the way, his two younger siblings were able to go to high school. Now he, along with his fellow honorees, is paving the way for countless children to receive a better education — the type of education that he knows personally can make all the difference.

“There are a lot of folks that struggle financially and, to be very candid, are living in poverty,” said Morrisey. “We at CEF believe that if we can give these kids the opportunity to get a Catholic education, that’s a way for them to get out of that poverty situation.”

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