by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — “This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at the annual Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) Gaudeamus gala. “It’s so great to be back in person!”
Indeed, Gaudeamus is considered one of the premier events in the Kansas City area and the archbishop wasn’t alone in being grateful it was held in-person this year.
The Overland Park Convention Center was packed with CEF patrons the evening of Oct. 23, and the joy of being together again generated outstanding generosity.
At the close of the evening, the total raised for CEF scholarships was $2,437,387.
“It’s been a crazy last 12 months,” said CEF board chair Jeff Jaworski, who opened the evening’s festivities. “But, tonight we get to set all of that aside.
“We’re going to reflect on, celebrate and be grateful for so many things that are Catholic faith and Catholic school related.”
The foundation put Catholic school teachers in the spotlight this year, honoring them as recipients of the Michael and Patty Morrisey Angels Among Us Award.
Presenting the award, archdiocesan superintendent of schools Dr. Vince Cascone said: “The true heroes of this past year are our Catholic school teachers, who bravely faced the pandemic to provide in-person learning all year long.”
Archbishop Naumann called teachers the “secret sauce” of our Catholic schools.
“As a son of a former Catholic school teacher and principal,” he said, “I salute all of our teachers for what you did this past year and are doing this year making a real difference in the lives of our young people.”
The archbishop particularly thanked teachers for combining education with faith formation.
“We try to give our young people the best quality education possible,” he said. “But even more importantly is to give them a relationship with Jesus Christ that will sustain them through a lifetime.”
CEF also awarded the Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence Award.
Each year, schools submit applications for the award and are judged in five key areas: joyfully Catholic, diligently achieving, intentionally self-giving, prudently managed and forwardly thinking.
“All of our schools scored very well this past year, in spite of the many challenges they faced,” said Cascone. “Three schools really stood out.
“The first two are finalists: St. Rose in Garnett and Our Lady of Unity in Kansas City, Kansas.
“One school, in particular, stood out the most in meeting the criteria for this coveted award — St. Patrick School in Kansas City, Kansas.”
Accepting the award, St. Patrick principal Tim Conrad thanked his staff and faculty, inviting them to stand and be recognized.
“I truly feel like I’m blessed to have a Super Bowl team to work with every day,” he said. “And our kids are blessed to have the teachers that work with them; the sacrifices they make are incredible.
“They’re truly passionate about teaching faith and teaching kids to be better every day.
“I’m honored and humbled to accept this award on behalf of St. Patrick Catholic School and Parish.”
Each year, a highlight of Gaudeamus is the opportunity to hear from a student who benefited from a CEF scholarship.
This year, senior Matthew DeHaro, of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, gave an impassioned speech expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to attend a Catholic school.
“I’m here to talk about what a difference donors like you have made to my family,” he said.
DeHaro’s parents immigrated to California in the 1980s and then to Kansas City, Kansas, where they raised six sons.
“My mother has always taught us that education leads to opportunity,” he told the audience. “Putting six kids through Catholic education has not been easy.
“It’s been a sacrifice for my parents.”
CEF scholarships made it possible for these parents to keep their sons in Catholic schools.
“Whenever things get hard,” said DeHaro, “my mom always says, ‘With God’s will, it will work out.’
“And with God’s will, my two older brothers graduated from Bishop Ward. My brother Isaac and I are currently there, and my two youngest brothers are at Resurrection.
“And with God’s will, we have had help along the way.”
DeHaro told patrons he hoped to go to UMKC and major in business, then to law school to study real estate law.
He ended his speech by thanking all the teachers at the gala.
“Thank you for nurturing kids just like me,” he said. “Thank you for making sure we get to college and eventually to heaven.”
Archbishop Naumann ended the evening thanking benefactors for their commitment to providing Catholic education for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
“I’m not interested in running an elite private school system,” he said. “Elite in the sense of being financially out of reach for many people.
“You help us to be able to compensate our teachers as well as make Catholic schools available to everyone financially.
“Thank you for allowing our church to be able to do that.”