by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ten years ago, 325 people gathered for the first CEF fundraiser. This year, the event, now known as Gaudeamus, is expected to draw a crowd of more than 3,000.
When viewed through the perspective of the last decade, it is amazing to see how much this annual celebration of Catholic education has grown.
No doubt people attend because they support Catholic schools and believe every child deserves a faith-based education. Certainly, thousands of young lives are impacted by their generosity.
But truth be told, attendance numbers have increased in part because the word is out that — in addition to supporting a good cause — Gaudeamus is an exceptionally good time.
Sandy Long is well aware of the effort that has gone into growing Gaudeamus into one of the most anticipated happenings of the season.
“Since Gaudeamus was started,” said CEF executive director Michael Morrisey,“Sandy’s been the committee chair . . . along with her husband. We call them the king and queen of Gaudeamus.”
The Longs’ dedication is born from a true belief in CEF’s mission.
“I love this organization with all my heart,” said Sandy Long. “And I feel a sense of accomplishment that in a very small way I have contributed to its success!
“This year’s event is special, as we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and recognizing those from the past 10 years who have made a significant contribution in promoting Catholic education.”
Indeed, all those honored as outstanding “Angels Among Us” (see sidebar) at past events will be recognized again this year.
“We’ve got a very diverse group of past honorees in terms of what they do,” said Morrisey.
“But one focus they all have is Catholic education, helping those that need help go to Catholic schools.”
In addition to reuniting honorees, this year will be a showcase for all the great food, great company and exciting features that make the annual Gaudeamus a must-attend event.
As always, the evening will begin with cocktails and conversation. Then, returning by popular demand, the Mater Dei drumline will lead guests to the ballroom.
Once again, Catholic school students will be an important part of the celebration.
The Holy Spirit School choir will be performing throughout the evening, along with vocalist Ron Gutierrez, a graduate of Hayden High School in Topeka.
And a new video has been produced to inform and entertain guests.
“We’ve got what we think is a fun video,” said Morrisey. “It’s a takeoff of the AT&T commercials — the guy with the kids around the table.”
Channel 41 helped create the video and its crew will also be entertaining dinner guests with spot interviews of various audience members projected on the big screen.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will be on hand for one of the evening’s most anticipated moments, the announcement of CEF’s 2013-2014 School of Excellence.
“He never misses a CEF event,” said Morrisey, “and he consistently says that helping kids go to Catholic schools is one of the most important missions the archdiocese has.”
And, of course, guests will be able to demonstrate their own support for CEF throughout the evening.
The sponsor-a-child opportunity will be available again this year and attendees will be encouraged to match a donor family challenge donation again.
“This year [the anonymous donors] have been kind enough to do it again,” said Morrisey. “And they’ve increased the $175,000 challenge to $200,000!”
After dinner, guests will be invited to mingle at the traditional post-Gaudeamus social hour.
It’s hard to calculate the number of lives touched by the generosity of Gaudeamus attendees over the past decade.
“This year, we’ve added an additional school,” said Morrisey. “So there are 43 schools in the archdiocese, and CEF is supporting 20 of the 43.
“If the averages stay the same, we’ll help a record 1,400-plus kids.”
The majority of children receiving CEF scholarships are living in poverty — a family of four making less than $24,000 a year.
“We believe education is their way of getting out of that familial cycle of poverty,” said Morrisey. “That’s the reason we do what we do.”
With three children and eleven grandchildren benefiting from Catholic education, Sandy Long understands the value of being part of a faith-based community.
“Community has been a solid foundation for my family to thrive,” she said. “Every Catholic family should have that privilege.”
But Long pointed out that the need is great; there are a large number of children waiting for CEF’s assistance.
“Please purchase a ticket,” she said. “Seeing the look of joy our CEF kids have and the enthusiasm they share for their Catholic faith brings a joy to your heart that is truly extraordinary.”