by The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — With moving speeches, powerful videos and inspiring honorees in the Byron and Jeanne Thompson family, the Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) annual Gaudeamus gala was a tremendous success. Held Oct. 28 at the Overland Park Convention Center, the event raised more than $2.4 million in scholarship funding.
Chaired by Craig and Karen Gaffney, Gaudeamus celebrated the importance of Catholic education and honored the Byron and Jeanne Thompson family, recipients of CEF’s 2023 Michael and Patty Morrisey Angels Among Us Award.
“‘Gaudeamus’ means ‘let us rejoice’ and we rejoice with the success that these kids are having because of the Catholic Education Foundation,” said Mark Thompson. Son of Byron and Jeanne Thompson, Mark accepted the award and spoke on behalf of the Thompson family at the event.
“If it wasn’t for [CEF], where would these kids be?” he asked.
That question was front of mind for the nearly 1,000 guests in attendance as they heard the remarkable story of CEF scholarship recipient Emily Jimenez. Jimenez, a senior at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, shared the struggles her family has encountered and how her faith and the community at Bishop Ward have helped.
“My freshman year at Bishop Ward was hard. Due to COVID, my mom lost her job, and we lost our housing,” Jimenez said. “We were moving from hotel rooms to friends’ homes and eventually ended up living in our car until a family we barely knew took us in.”
“It’s because of Christ’s love that I’m here today. Because of his love, people have helped me be successful in life along the way — strangers took my mom and me in, strangers befriended me [at Bishop Ward] and helped me grow my Catholic faith, and donors like you — strangers to me — contributed to the Catholic Education Foundation, which enabled me to attend Bishop Ward and feel the love of Christ.”
Jimenez said that the outpouring of support she received from CEF donors has motivated her to pursue a career in nursing so that she can share Christ’s love with others.
“Thank you on behalf of all the students at Bishop Ward and the students across the archdiocese who receive CEF scholarships. The scholarships do make a difference,” she said.
Guests gave Jimenez a standing ovation as CEF board chair RJ Gildea met her on stage. Gildea reminded the crowd that Jimenez is one of nearly 2,000 students across the archdiocese currently receiving CEF scholarships.
“This year, we are dealing with the greatest need in our organization’s history, by both number of families and total dollars,” he said, adding that 333 new students are in need of scholarship funding to receive a Catholic education this school year.
“While part of this additional need is due to the current economic environment, it is also growing because families are making the decision to move their children into our Catholic schools,” he said.
The annual Gaudeamus gala provides more than 80% of CEF’s annual funding for traditional scholarships, providing tuition assistance to families who otherwise would not be able to provide their children with a Catholic education.
Other highlights of the evening included the presentation of the 2023 Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence Award to Holy Cross School in Overland Park.
Archbishop Naumann closed the evening with a prayer and his gratitude for the Byron and Jeanne Thompson family and the far-reaching impact of their generosity.
“Byron and Jeanne — what an incredible marriage. What a difference one marriage has made in our community and continues on,” he said. “They are truly champions for our Catholic Church.”