by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — The sound of Topeka’s Mater Dei drum line leading guests into the Overland Park Convention Center ballroom resounded almost as joyfully as Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) executive director Michael Morrisey’s opening remark at the 2012 Gaudeamus event.
“This evening we have a record crowd of 1,211!”
It was just the beginning of a festive evening filled with food, fellowship, and a celebration of Catholic education.
Morrisey first recognized grand chairpersons Sandy and Tom Long and the CEF board members, then asked Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, to give the blessing, which he did with an a capella rendition of “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman.”
After dinner, a short film entitled “The Best of CEF,” featuring former CEF students and their parents, was followed by a moving account by Bishop Ward junior Tony Subasic, who shared his personal experience as a CEF scholarship recipient.
Tony’s family came to the United States as Croatian refugees in 1997. He and his three siblings attended Catholic schools with the help of CEF, and Tony attributes his college aspirations to his Catholic education.
“Having faith is having hope,” he said.
Morrisey told the audience that CEF scholarships enable 1,214 underprivileged children like Tony to attend Catholic schools this year, but there are another 400 students CEF couldn’t help because it simply didn’t have the funds.
Superintendent of schools Dr. Kathleen O’Hara commented on St. Matthew’s outstanding community service saying, “It’s amazing how much our CEF schools give back.”
Archbishop Naumann joined O’Hara in presenting the School of Excellence Award to St. Matthew School in Topeka. Sacred Heart School, Emporia, was recognized as the runner-up.
Accepting the award for St. Matthew was principal Heather Huscher, who asked members of her faculty to stand, saying they “represent all Catholic school teachers who sacrifice.”
Huscher said she was both honored to receive the award and grateful to CEF, which helps support a third of St. Matthew students.
The next highlight of the evening was the presentation of the CEF “Angels Among Us” award to all bishops and archbishops, past and present.
A video presentation briefly highlighted the 11 men who presided over the archdiocese for the last century and a half.
Then Pat McAnany, CEF board chair, presented the award to Archbishop Naumann and Archbishop Emeritus James Keleher, who accepted on behalf of all bishops.
The two received a standing ovation.
In his acceptance remarks, Archbishop Naumann said the foundation of Catholic education in the archdiocese had been laid by true leaders of the faith.
“We’ve had great leadership,” he said. “I feel blessed because I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me.”
At the end of the evening, Morrisey announced that the audience had raised $268,000 toward scholarships.
That amount, combined with the $175,000 matching gift and $258,861 in sponsorships made before the evening, gave the event a grand total of more than $700,000 pledged.
In his closing prayer, Archbishop Keleher gave thanks for the generosity of CEF patrons saying, “If we fail to pass on the faith, we have failed our greatest mission.”