by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) held its annual benefit gala, Gaudeamus, virtually this year.
But that didn’t quell the enthusiasm or generosity of guests at more than 40 Gaudeamus-at-Home events throughout the archdiocese.
Highlighting the evening was Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann talking about his own mother’s devotion to Catholic education.
Louise Naumann, who died just a few weeks ago, was a principal and teacher for 40 years.
“She believed in our Catholic schools,” said the archbishop. “She believed there was nothing more important she could do than help young people develop the gifts and talents they’d been given so they could give honor and glory to God.
“But she also believed that her Catholic school allowed her to be able to teach our young people to know Jesus Christ and experience his love in their lives.”
Archbishop Naumann shares his mother’s dedication to Catholic education as well and, each year, recognizes a CEF-sponsored school for providing superior Catholic education.
Schools apply for the award and applications are evaluated based on the following criteria: Joyfully Catholic, Diligently Achieving, Intentionally Self-Giving, Prudently Managed and Forwardly Thinking.
During the online event, the 2020 Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence Award was presented to Christ the King School in Kansas City, Kansas.
St. Patrick School in Kansas City, Kansas, was selected as first finalist for the award, followed closely by the second finalist, Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka.
According to the evaluation committee, what truly set Christ the King apart is the faith-filled, family-focused community the school has fostered, empowering students to take initiative on service projects ranging from greeting cards to homebound parishioners during the pandemic, to student-led fundraisers for community members in need.
That community spirit is what draws families to Christ the King School.
“On the face of it, we don’t have a state-of-the-art school facility,” said Christ the King pastor Father Nick Blaha. “We’re celebrating 80 years of Catholic education.
“What they love is the commitment — first on the part of our parish to support this mission of education and also the ability of our families, our faculty and our students to really pull together.
“What this school is all about is heart.”
This academic year, Christ the King administration and faculty worked hard to reconfigure the school’s curriculum to a classical, liberal arts approach that reclaims Catholic educational traditions.
The model has been successful in large part thanks to Cathy Fithian, who has been principal for 19 years and at the school for 36 years.
“I’ve always wanted to level the playing field for kids who might not have the economic advantage of things,” said Fithian. “Education does that for children. Education is the key.
“And so, we’re committed at Christ the King to providing the best education possible for students because that will open so many other avenues for them to be able to know what God’s plan is for their lives.”
CEF board of directors chair Derek Teeter presented Fithian with a banner to hang in the school and share with the Christ the King students, faculty and community.
Fithian expressed gratitude for the honor and related how important the CEF is to Christ the King
“When you see a family come in,” she said, “and they want the Catholic education for their child, but they don’t believe they’re able to receive that and you’re able to say, ‘Wait, there are people out there that want to help you, such as the Catholic Education Foundation.’
“The CEF was there. It answered so many prayers.”
CEF executive director Vincent Anch agreed, saying “CEF is always more than willing to say we will do whatever we can to help our families.”