Task force recommends private appeal, faith initiative instead
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Lamar Hunt Jr. has a philosophy about being blessed with a famous name and good fortune.
“It challenges you to say, ‘OK, I’ve got these resources,’” he said. “‘How can I leverage them to do good for God, for the community and for our church?’”
Hunt answered that question in a big way recently when he and his wife Rita donated $3 million to Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s private appeal.
“We’ve been fortunate to have success in the business world,” he said. “So we thought we could step up here and really make a commitment.”
The value of faith
A member of Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, Hunt entered the Catholic Church 20 years ago when his oldest daughter made her first Communion.
“I just had to kind of get with the program,” he said.
He also found inspiration in a book he read and still keeps handy in his office, “The Catholic Catechism,” by Father John Hardon.
Hunt and his wife, Rita, are a blended family. Together they have nine children, all of whom have been educated through the Catholic school system.
With only a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old left at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, the Hunts are nearing the end of their journey through high school academics and sports. But they still want to support Catholic education.
Through his children, and through his own experience as a student at a private Episcopal school, Hunt knows a faith-based education is the best kind.
“Not to denigrate or cut down public education,” he said, “but an education without a perspective of faith, a real understanding that Jesus Christ is the foundation of our lives, is an incomplete education.”
When an archdiocesan task force was formed to study issues identified in a capital campaign feasibility study, many of which involved Catholic education, Hunt was eager to participate.
“Archbishop Naumann called me,” Hunt recalled. “And he asked me on the phone would I be willing to do it.
“And I said yes.”
Examining the future
Hunt had met Archbishop Naumann before, but was pleased to become better acquainted during his time on the task force.
The task force — which consisted of 10 individuals, both lay and religious —was given the responsibility of examining current and future needs of the archdiocese and determining the best way to resolve them.
“Our charge was to sort of take what was a case that had been made for a capital campaign and look at all the elements,” said Hunt.
“There were all sorts of presentations and cases made for the funding needed to grow programs or to make them sustainable,” he continued.
Hunt was impressed with his fellow task force members.
“A lot of them knew a lot more than I did,” he said. “I was grateful to listen to all the input and expertise in the room, because there were a lot of perspectives.”
In the end, the group recommended against a capital campaign and, with help from the presbyteral, advisory, finance and pastoral councils, developed four key recommendations for the archdiocese.
Included was the recommendation for a private appeal to raise funds for debt, tuition assistance, and endowment needs at secondary schools.
“Debt as part of a capital campaign is a big turn-off for people,” explained Hunt. “It’s not attractive at all.
“So we kind of came up with the idea — and it was embraced very early — that the debt had to be treated as something different.”
Faith seeks understanding
A portion of the funds from the private appeal will also be used to implement an archdiocesan-wide faith initiative, titled “Faith: Love it, Learn it, Live It.”
“I think that’s something the archbishop, being the teacher of the diocese, really wants to do,” said Hunt. “I think he wants the Catechism [of the Catholic Church] to be really well taught and well received by the diocese.”
Drawing from his own experience, Hunt explained the importance of the faith initiative.
“Faith seeks understanding,” he said. “It’s an absolute gift from God.
“Once we embrace it, there are things we want to try to clarify in our minds — how it impacts our work life, our political decisions, our personal moral decisions.”
The faith initiative is scheduled for launch in fall of 2012. Hunt encourages everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to participate.
“Take the time out of your schedules,” he said. “Make a commitment for one year.
“It will probably take only one night a week. Spend a little time in prayer and on homework, and you will change your faith life.
“You will open up all kinds of doors you never even knew existed. God will take very little that we give him and he’ll do a whole lot with it.”
Hunt and his wife will be honorary chairpersons of the private appeal.
“I think I can lend some credibility to it,” said Hunt. “And help people get a foot in the door to meet with people.
“We’ve committed a substantial sum and we’ve made headway already on this. I think the goal is $14 million. We can get there.”
For Rita, it’s a chance to get back into action after a trying year.
“She was diagnosed with breast cancer last May,” her husband explained. “She finished her chemo treatments in November and finished radiation in January. And so her health is returning to full strength.”
Hunt isn’t surprised his wife is ready to take on this challenge.
“She’s a people person,” he said. “And she loves the Catholic Church.”
The Hunts hope that by answering many archdiocesan needs through this private appeal, they will free up people who would have contributed to a capital campaign to be generous in other ways.
“I’d rather have the broader base increase their offertory enhancement, step up and do other things,” said Hunt.
But most of all, the Hunts want to help make the faith-based education they value for their own children available to every child who wants it.
“I think the Catholic faith grounds a person,” said Hunt. “It gives you a sort of grounding in humility and temperance.
“So the Catholic schools are extremely important. And we’re here to offer a life of faith and truth. We don’t want to have closed doors to some kids.”
Moreover, on a personal level, Hunt wanted to extend a thank-you to his fellow Catholics for helping put him in the position to be so generous.
“I’d like to thank all the people who for all the years have supported the Kansas City Chiefs,” he said.
“Our family has benefited financially,” he added, “and our desire is to give back what has been given to us really very freely.”