by Amy Brost
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “On this feast of St. Paul, this amazing evangelist, I’m reminded that the most important thing we can give our young people is a relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to the supporters attending the Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) special Mass of thanksgiving.
“Like the encounter Paul had on the road to Damascus,” he continued, “our Catholic schools create an environment where students don’t just learn about Jesus as a historical figure, but actually come to know the real person, and can experience his love and his desire for friendship in communion with them.
“It’s your sacrifice and your generosity that makes this possible.”
Held at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood on Jan. 25, this inaugural event was an opportunity for the Catholic Education Foundation to share its appreciation with donors whose contributions have helped ensure students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to receive a Catholic education.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to express our thanks to you and give you a little glimpse of the difference your gifts are making. Because of you and the support you’ve given us over our 25-year history, we’ve provided 26,000 scholarships, a total of over $33 million,” said Vince Anch, CEF executive director. “And we’re just scratching the surface.”
Anch noted that one of the biggest challenges that CEF faces is awareness. Many families, especially those who have immigrated from countries in Central America, think that Catholic school is only for the wealthy. Assuming that they can’t afford to send their children to a Catholic school, many families don’t even apply, unaware that tuition assistance is available from CEF.
“As a bishop, one of the things that I struggle with is making sure that our schools don’t become elite institutions that are only for the wealthy,” explained Archbishop Naumann. “They are that in some parts of the world. The Catholic Education Foundation helps me uphold my responsibilities by helping our Catholic schools be accessible to all.”
Last October, CEF’s signature fundraising event, Gaudeamus, raised more than $2.4 million toward tuition assistance scholarships for at-risk students at Catholic schools throughout northeast Kansas.
In his homily, the archbishop celebrated the success of Gaudeamus and shared the impact he has seen firsthand, including stories from his annual dinner with parents of students receiving CEF scholarships.
“You’re helping our Catholic parents fulfill their mission of passing the faith on to a new generation,” he said, “but our schools also benefit non-Catholics, especially because of CEF scholarships, who entrust their children to our Catholic schools.
“Parents know that Catholic schools are the best hope they can give their children for the future.”
He then blessed those present for helping make Catholic schools accessible to more families.
Now in its 26th year, the Catholic Education Foundation partners with Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese, particularly those located in under-resourced communities with a high percentage of students living at or below the poverty level. For the 2023-24 school year, CEF scholarships are helping nearly 1,800 students receive a Catholic education.
In closing, Anch shared his appreciation for those who have supported CEF throughout its history.
“We want our supporters to know how much we appreciate them,” said Anch. “We thought that having a Mass dedicated to our supporters, even those who couldn’t attend, would be a very special way to express our gratitude.”
Anch also announced that Archbishop Naumann will be honored at the 2024 Gaudeamus gala on Oct. 12.
“Every year, we honor someone who has been a dedicated supporter of Catholic education,” he said. “I’ve been trying to honor the archbishop for three years and he finally said yes — not because he wants the spotlight, but because he knows how much it will help us reach new people and raise funds to help more kids attend our Catholic schools.
“No one is a bigger champion for Catholic education than Archbishop Naumann.”
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