by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College, received a standing ovation at the end of this year’s SHINE event when he made this simple announcement: “We just hit our goal!”
SHINE, the annual fundraiser and gala for the college, was held Oct. 6 at The Abbott in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised nearly $855,000 for this one-of-a-kind small Catholic college in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Donnelly proudly boasts of its affordability and the most diverse student body in the Midwest.
Event chairs Herb and Lisa Sizemore thanked the audience for their donations, adding, “We want to say how honored we are by your generosity.”
The reason Donnelly College has so much support was summed up by Sister Esther Fangman, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, during her opening remarks.
“We value this college,” she said, “because it has carried the same message for 75 years — to provide an education for people who otherwise couldn’t get it.”
Donnelly College is known for having a diverse community that walks out its doors with hope for the future and very little student debt.
That’s a winning combination.
Calling it “the miracle on 18th Street,” Msgr. Swetland shared video footage of the college’s new campus.
“We have a first-rate campus now,” he said, “and it reflects what has always been true about what happens inside the college.
“We have always given a first-rate education with formation in faith, and allowing people to seek truth, build community and pursue excellence.”
Msgr. Swetland praised the faculty’s work with prisoners in Lansing Correctional Facility, noting that the recidivism rate for those students is less than 2%.
He also praised the nursing program and thanked the audience for support that has resulted in $1.5 million in scholarships each year.
“We know that a Donnelly education is transformative,” he said. “And we see it in the families and our students as they go through graduation.
“Last May, we graduated almost 100 people; 72 percent of them were the first in their family to graduate from college.”
Donnelly board chairman Jason Banks led the Alumni Hall of Fame inductions of Shuha Shareef and Dr. William Nicely.
Shareef, an Iraqi refugee, graduated from Donnelly in 1985 and joined the faculty as an associate professor of mathematics.
Nicely graduated from Donnelly in 1985 and went on to have a 30-year career in education. He taught high school science, became a high school principal and a superintendent.
Both inductees thanked the faculty and staff at Donnelly for putting them on a path to higher education and greater professional achievements.
The highlight of SHINE is always the “Scholarship Spotlight,” when scholarship recipients tell their personal stories.
Eny Mejia, an immigrant from the island of Roatán in Honduras, is a sophomore at Donnelly.
She thanked the audience for donations that enabled her to receive a presidential merit scholarship.
She praised Donnelly’s diverse faculty and student body.
“I have been able to meet with people from all over the world, allowing me to see the world through different eyes,” she said.
Mejia plans to graduate next May and transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in biology.
“I have a dream to become a travel doctor who cares for people in catastrophe zones,” she said.
Scholarship recipient Carlos Walker, a native of Wyandotte County, had the audience enthralled with his story of triumph from tragedy.
As a young child, Walker witnessed his father, recently released from prison, shoot his older brother.
“My dad went back to prison,” he said. “Needless to say, that experience was traumatic. And even today, talking about it brings tears to my eyes.
“It put my family in a tailspin.”
Walker went on to struggle in school and with his own run-ins with the law.
But he never gave up his faith in God’s forgiveness and salvation.
“I knew I had to get it together,” he said. “I attended Donnelly College and that’s where I met Sister Marie Katherine.
“We would have discussions about what it meant to be the image of God.”
Today, Walker is a CPA specializing in tax planning and raising his own family.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann closed the evening with a blessing.
“What an inspiring night this has been,” he said. “The Donnelly story is one that has a very beautiful history. And we heard that tonight and saw some of the fruits of that history.
“We ask [God] to continue to bless this college and make it fruitful so more of our young adults can achieve their dreams.”