By Jill Ragar Esfeld
When describing this year’s Gaudeamus, Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) executive director Michael Morrisey said, “We’ve seasoned it with students.”
Students are the beneficiaries of the foundation’s biggest fundraiser and they’re always an important part of the evening.
“We can’t do it without them,” said Morrisey.
As greeters, entertainers and distributors of special guest gifts, students are visible reminders that the purpose of Gaudeamus is to celebrate Catholic education and support CEF’s mission to make it accessible for every child in the archdiocese.
Topeka’s Mater Dei School Drum Line will once again set the tone of the evening as they lead guests from a cocktail reception into the ballroom, where patrons will find excellent food and constant entertainment.
Big-screen televisions will feature KSHB-TV 41 Action News anchor Christa Dubill interviewing the evening’s guests and asking for two-sentence descriptions of their favorite teachers.
Several videos will follow throughout the evening including a segment, produced by KSHB, which will amuse as much as it informs.
Another video will feature the Angels Among Us honorees: the Ledom, McAnany and Newcomer families, who chose this format to deliver a message about the importance of Catholic education.
And a third video features a CEF family illustrating how scholarships can change lives.
Overland Park’s Church of the Ascension School choir will also have a debut performance at the event this year.
“We’re looking forward to getting them involved,” said Morrisey.
They’ll accompany Gaudeamus past favorite vocalist Ron Gutierrez.
Along with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher, there will be a host of priests and Catholic school supporters.
“As a special feature this year,” said Morrisey, “CEF has invited each CEF school to have a teacher representative attend Gaudeamus.
“Those guys and gals will go up on the stage; they’ll be recognized, and the schools that they’re from will be acknowledged as well.”
Another highlight of the evening will be a student speaker from Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas.
“Everyone will love this young lady,” said Morrisey. “She’s very dynamic, very outgoing.
“I believe she will truly endear the world to her and, as a result, to CEF.”
And, of course, the recipient of the School of Excellence award will be announced, and the award presented.
A generous matching gift from an anonymous donor will be a great incentive to give generously, believes Morrisey.
Young adults will be welcomed at the event with an opportunity to gather downstairs after dinner for networking and entertainment catered to their tastes, while more seasoned patrons will enjoy a coffee bar and an opportunity to mingle.
“I think there are a lot of dinners, a lot of fundraising events out there,” commented Morrisey, “and they’re all good.
“We believe Gaudeamus is different simply because it’s an evening where everybody has the opportunity to join with us in celebrating Catholic education.”
Three couples honored as ‘Angels Among Us’
Though all who support Catholic education are considered Angels Among Us, this year’s honorees stand out in their longtime support of the Catholic Education Foundation.
All three men — Mark Ledom, Nelson Newcomer and Pat McAnany — have served as CEF board chairs, and their wives have been constant champions of their efforts.
Ledom, supported by his wife Lisa, was first to take on the responsibility of CEF board chair during a time of transition — meaning he managed the foundation until an executive director was hired.
“I believe Catholic education is important for all families trying to raise children in this secular society,” said Ledom. “In our CEF schools, where the socioeconomics are so much different, it is especially important.”
All children need an environment where they feel valued, loved and protected. Ledom believes CEF schools offer that environment to children in need.
And CEF teachers offer so much more than an excellent education.
“In our CEF schools,” said Ledom, “teachers so often become counselors, surrogate mothers and friends.”
He’s proud to be part of the Gaudeamus celebration.
“If [they could] just stop and see the difference we’re making in the lives of these children,” he said, “everybody would go and support this cause.”
While Ledom was board chair, Nelson Newcomer and Pat McAnany were on the CEF board. When Ledom stepped down, Newcomer took over.
His wife Marcia was his enthusiastic supporter.
“My wife and I have been blessed,” said Newcomer of the decision. “And in the Gospel it says, ‘To those whom much has been given, much is expected.’”
Newcomer said Catholic schools are the only place children can grow both spiritually and intellectually.
“My wife and I have been tremendously blessed in being able to send our kids to Catholic grade school, high school and college,” he said. “I know they have seen the benefit of that.”
Gaudeamus is about extending that opportunity to every family in the archdiocese.
“It’s giving families who otherwise could not afford a Catholic education an opportunity to go to a Catholic school,” Newcomer said. “And Catholic education gives these children an opportunity to go on through high school and college and be successful.
“So that’s what Gaudeamus is all about.”
Pat and Mel McAnany followed the Newcomers with equal dedication.
“It’s part of our Catholic responsibility to live out the Gospel,” said Pat McAnany. “That’s what we’re doing.”
McAnany talked about Pope Francis and his call for mercy.
“Here we have in our backyard people who need our mercy,” he said. “And I think one of the greatest gifts we can give them is a Catholic education.
“It’s a lifelong gift.”
McAnany sees Gaudeamus as a celebration of that mercy.
“I love Gaudeamus because it’s a very Catholic event,” he said. “I feel blessed to be a small part of it.
“The children are there and you can see them. It is absolutely a way to celebrate our Catholic faith.”
Michael Morrisey, CEF executive director, is grateful for the contributions of these dedicated families.
“They all go way back with CEF,” he said. “We have our founding fathers we address and acknowledge every Gaudeamus dinner.
“But if there were founding fathers 2, it would be these three guys.”