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Benefit gala celebrates Catholic education

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann thanks supporters at the kickoff to the Catholic Education Foundation’s Gaudeamus Gala, which raises money for scholarships for at-risk students at Catholic schools throughout northeast Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

OVERLAND PARK —  “Thank you, all,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to the supporters attending the kickoff to the Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) Gaudeamus Gala. “You’re here tonight because you’re leaders in the community.                

“We’re depending on you to help us make this the most successful Gaudeamus ever.”

Last year, the gala raised more than $2.4 million toward tuition assistance scholarships for at-risk students at Catholic schools throughout northeast Kansas.

“We have 332 kids on a list in need of scholarships in order to attend or stay enrolled in Catholic schools this year,” said Vince Anch, CEF executive director.

Anch noted that recent reports on public school’s poor math and reading grades have greatly increased interest in the Catholic school system.

 “[Our students’ grades] have been going up before, during and after COVID,” he said. “Our schools today are stronger academically and they are by far more Catholic than they’ve ever been.”

Members of the Thompson family gather at the kickoff event for the Catholic Education Foundation’s Gaudeamus Gala. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

The faith-based education that archdiocesan schools offer not only gives students an excellent education but equips them with morals and ethics that help them use that education for good.

No one knows that better than Craig Gaffney and his wife Karen, this year’s Gaudeamus board chairs.

Both attended Catholic schools now supported by CEF.

“Gaudeamus means ‘Let us rejoice,’” said Gaffney. “And that’s exactly what we’ll do on Oct. 28. Over 1000 people attend the gala each year.

“It includes an open bar, reception, great dinner, live music and a very memorable program.”

From left, Alex Keith, Toby Cook and Archbishop Naumann chat during CEF’s kickoff event for its annual Gaudeamus Gala. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

That program includes recognizing an outstanding CEF school with the School of Excellence award and honoring exceptional support of Catholic education with the Patty and Michael Morrissey Angels Among Us Award.

Holy Cross School in Overland Park will be recognized as the 2023 Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence.

This year’s Angels Among Us winner is the Byron and Jeanne Thompson Family.

“Honoring the Byron and Jeanne Thompson family is so fitting,” said Gaffney. “The Thompson family’s unwavering dedication to bettering our community I believe has been guided by their faith in Jesus Christ.”

During their lifetimes, the  Thompsons brought about positive change and inspired countless individuals through their remarkable generosity.

Today, their legacy proudly lives on through their children and grandchildren.

The Thompsons’ grandson Colin Thompson, vice president of corporate administration for Country Club Bank, and his wife Cassidy are on the planning committee for Gaudeamus.

“I am a beneficiary of my family’s belief in Catholic education,” said Colin Thompson. “And I am forever grateful for the intellectual and religious formation my education provided me.”

Vincent Anch, executive director of CEF, talks with Joan Wells while Christopher Schumm looks on. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

The Thompson family has always considered education the key to empowerment.

“My grandfather was known to say, ‘Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,’” Thompson said. “Catholic education specifically ensures that young people are educated with a sense of integrity and a moral compass that is derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

The kickoff event was a success, as patrons and sponsors were inspired by the mission that results in brighter futures for the Catholic school students who benefit from the funds raised.

“Our story is simple,” said CEF board chairman R.J. Gildea. “We grant almost 2,000 scholarships across 23 different schools.

“And these are our schools that, without that enrollment, would be at most risk of closing.”

Now in its 21st year, the Catholic Education Foundation’s Gaudeamus benefit gala is ranked the No. 2 charitable gala in Kansas City — second only to the Catholic Charities Snow Ball event.

“Thanks to our principals and teachers,” said Archbishop Naumann. “They help these young people develop the gifts and talents God has given them and give them the moral compass to use them for good.”

He then blessed those present for helping make Catholic schools accessible to more families.

“Help us to truly rejoice in the opportunity to help others be part of this beautiful mission,” he said.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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