by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “The most influential teacher of faith for me was my mother,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told the parents of children receiving Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) scholarships to attend Catholic schools.
The parents were selected from several CEF-supported schools to have dinner with the archbishop on Dec. 13.
One of the parents, Yenni Alvarez, had recently lost her husband to COVID and is working two jobs to support her three boys. But thanks to CEF, her boys will remain in their Catholic school.
The archbishop seemed to be addressing Alvarez as he told the story of his own single mother who got up every morning to attend Mass at 5 a.m.
“My father was murdered,” he said. “And my mother didn’t believe that God desired that to happen, but she believed God could bring good even out of this evil.
“She had this hope, this belief, that God still had a plan for her and for us and for our family.
“This is the great gift of our Christian faith.”
“God doesn’t promise us we won’t have any adversities,” he continued. “But he promises us that he’ll always be with us and that he’ll give us what we need in a given moment.”
Faith in that promise, he told them, is what Catholic schools strive to give students in addition to a good education.
“If they know that no matter what life may throw at them, whatever difficulties they might have, they’re never alone,” he said, “then they can never doubt their worth, they can never doubt their dignity.
“Even the things that to us seem bad on the surface, God can turn them and use them for good in our lives.”
After Mass in the chapel at the archbishop’s residence, parents were treated to dinner where conversation centered on Christmas traditions and gratitude for the Catholic education CEF helps provide for their children.
“I work two jobs,” said Regina Cortez, a single mother with three daughters who attend St. Matthew Grade School and Hayden High School in Topeka.
“It is very emotional when you talk about the things you sacrifice for your kids,” she said. “There is a lot of sacrifice, and so I appreciate what [CEF] does.”
Guadalupe Banuelos agreed, telling of her own struggles trying to run a small family business while her husband was still in Mexico working to legally immigrate to the United States.
Banuelos was pregnant at the time and had a young daughter.
“Me by myself, pregnant, no help, starting up a little restaurant, trying to be independent — it was hard,” she said. “Holy Name [Parish in Kansas City, Kansas] helped me out.”
Through a CEF scholarship, Banuelos’ daughter was able to attend Holy Name School where she learned to support her mother.
“Ms. Thomas taught her how to pray,” she recalled. “She would come home and say, ‘Let’s pray.’”
Megan Ziesler and her husband were committed to sending their daughter to Christ the King School, also in Kansas City, Kansas.
When her husband died suddenly, CEF stepped in to make sure her daughter was able to stay in her school.
“She has gotten to go there solely because of these scholarships,” she said.
Ziesler remarried and had two sons who also now attend Christ the King, thanks to CEF.
“I’m so thankful for that. It has made a world of difference to me,” she said. “I think for them, I can’t measure the benefits it’s had in their lives.”
Mayra Bustos, who works two jobs to support her children and to send them to Holy Family School at Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish in Topeka, can see the benefit of Catholic education thanks to CEF.
“They learn so much about virtues, values, and what people are worth — not based on what they have,” she said, “but on who they are.
“CEF has helped me tremendously.”
CEF board chair Jeff Jaworski was greatly moved by the conversation and praised the parents for their hard work.
“We can raise money,” he said. “But we are not the heroes in the room tonight. You guys sacrifice way more than we do to send your kids to a Catholic school.
“That is so inspiring to me,” Jaworski continued. “As long as I’m the chairman, we’re committed to doing everything we can to keep your kids in Catholic school.”
CEF director Vince Anch encouraged parents to spread the word.
“We want to help more families,” he said. “We’re never gong to stop fundraising.”