by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
Kansas city, Kan. — “Catholic schools would not be what they are today without the involvement and commitment of their pastors,” believes Catholic Education Foundation executive director Michael Morrisey. “The pastor leads that charge and leads that passion for Catholic education.”
That’s why this year’s Gaudeamus event, the ninth annual Catholic Education Foundation dinner, will honor Catholic school pastors past and present with the “Angels Among Us” award.
Pastors are also, continued Morrisey, the driving force behind support for CEF.
By providing scholarships for needy families at CEF-sponsored schools in northeast Kansas, the foundation ensures Catholic education is available to students, regardless of any financial difficulties their families may be facing.
“We couldn’t be doing today what we are doing without the support of our Catholic school pastors,” said Morrisey. “Their commitment to CEF and Catholic education is a blessing from above.”
Heather Huscher, principal of St. Matthew, a CEF-sponsored school in Topeka, knows how important that commitment is.
“CEF is critical,” she said. “We have a number of students who wouldn’t be able to attend our school without [CEF].”
When a family is facing a financial crisis, Huscher is gratified to be able to tell the parents that, with help from CEF, they can keep their child in Catholic school.
“Whatever their circumstances may be,” she said, “I can at least take that worry off of their shoulders.”
Huscher is also pleased that Father Jerry Volz, pastor of St. Matthew, will be honored at Gaudeamus.
“We work together very well,” she said. “He doesn’t micromanage me and I appreciate that, but he is very supportive when an issue arises that I need his help with.
“And he does a great job of gearing the homily toward the kids at school Masses and making it applicable to their lives.”
Susie England, principal of John Paul II School in Overland Park is also pleased with the decision to honor Catholic school pastors.Because John Paul II is a consolidation school, she is fortunate to have the support of two pastors.
“I have Father Ken Kelly from St. Pius and Father Don Cullen from Queen of the Holy Rosary,” she said. “They both support the school 100 percent.”
Father Cullen teaches eighth-graders a class he calls “Life 101.” And Father Kelly is known to play his ukulele for students.
The two pastors are behind everything the school does, especially when it comes time for students to receive their sacraments.
“They spend lots of time preparing them for the sacraments in their respective parishes,” said England.
Though not a CEF-sponsored school, John Paul II is an important part of the CEF community.
“We try to get a [Gaudeamus] table every year,” said England. “And our student council tries to do at least one fundraiser each year where the monies go to support our CEF schools.”
And that’s not unusual, said Morrisey.
“There are 44 schools in the archdiocese,” he said. “Last year 39 of the 44 supported CEF somehow.”
Morrisey believes Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s strong commitment to Catholic education permeates the archdiocese through his pastors to their parishioners.
“The archbishop is certainly the ringleader on all of this,” he said. “He believes that any kid that wants to have a Catholic education should have that opportunity, regardless of their socioeconomic conditions.”
As always, Catholic school students will be an important part of this year’s Gaudeamus.
The St. Thomas Aquinas choir will be performing. And, by popular demand, the Mater Dei drum line is returning to lead guests to and from the ballroom.
Throughout the evening, guests will have opportunities to show their support for CEF.
“We’ve got our sponsor-a-child opportunity happening again this year,” said Morrisey.
“And we’ve got the same donor family from last year to help us out with a challenge match of $175,000,” he added. “So that will make the evening exciting and somewhat electric.”
The traditional social hour after dinner will be unique this year simply because many of the pastors will stay to mingle with guests.
“So whoever wants to hang for an hour or so afterwards will have the opportunity to interact with a lot of pastors,” said Morrisey.
Last year the dinner boasted a crowd of 1,053. The goal this year is 1,100, with organizers predicting more.
After all, who could resist the opportunity to support Catholic education while honoring Catholic school pastors?
“I’m very glad that Michael and his crew have recognized how critical the priest role is in making CEF work in schools,” said England.
“Our pastors work very hard, and they are very instrumental in keeping our Catholic schools vibrant,” agreed Huscher. “And they should be honored.
“We appreciate all they do for our school,” she continued. “And God bless them!”
Let us rejoice!
The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) will honor Catholic school pastors at the organization’s ninth annual Gaudeamus dinner on Oct. 8 at the Overland Park Convention Center.
“The reason we’re honoring them is, if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have many of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese that we have today,” said Michael Morrisey, CEF executive director. “Their contributions in the classrooms and away from the classrooms — we can’t measure it because it is so great.”
The Catholic Education Foundation provides scholarships for needy families in northeast Kansas, so they may attend Catholic schools sponsored by the foundation.
Tickets for the Gaudeamus dinner are still available. Contact Patty Morrisey, via email, at: email@example.com, or call (913) 647-0344.
To learn more about CEF or this year’s Gaudeamus dinner, visit the website at: www.cefks.org.