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Organizers hope new format makes SpireFest a virtual success

Sister Diane Steele, SCL, University of Saint Mary president, sits down for a prerecorded address as part of the Leavenworth university’s 17th annual SpireFest. The event has been moved online via YouTube on April 25. SpireFest is USM’s largest annual fundraising event. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. MARY

by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven

LEAVENWORTH — Online schooling, “stay at home” orders and social distancing because of COVID-19 is not stopping the University of Saint Mary here from hosting the 17th annual SpireFest April 25 via YouTube.

“Our mission doesn’t stop in the midst of a pandemic,” said Madeleine Bryce, USM advancement office special events and annual giving manager, “and it’s kind of even more crucial right now to continue supporting our mission.

“Our students’ lives have been upended, and we still need to provide them support while they’re adapting to their new living and learning environments.”

SpireFest is USM’s largest annual fundraising event for student scholarships, which brings together alumni, board members, students and friends of the university for a night of entertainment and a silent auction.

“It started from a committed group of friends and alumni who wanted to do something fun and different to help Saint Mary and the students,” said Matt Astleford, USM vice president for advancement. “It’s just grown into this wonderful thing that it is now.”

The premiere event begins at 5 p.m. on April 25 and will include prerecorded videos from Sister Diane Steele, SCL, USM president, and students. There will also be a silent auction.

“It will feel similar to the in-person event, just online,” Bryce said.

“We’re trying to mimic the live event as closely as we can for people from the comfort of their homes,” said Astleford.

Although the main event is April 25, the silent auction will go live at 8 a.m. on April 20 and close at 11:55 p.m. on April 25. The 80-plus items include a signed Patrick Mahomes MVP jersey as well as trips to Ireland; Palm Springs, California; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

“I think people will be looking forward to getting back to traveling again and looking forward to a little bit of respite after everything calms down, so we decided to keep [the trips] in the auction this year [instead of holding them for next year],” said Bryce.

Though conducting SpireFest online is new territory, Bryce said it has its advantages.

 “A silver lining in all this is to have a bit more of a captive audience, since more people are looking to the digital landscape to mitigate the isolation,” Bryce said.

“I think more people will tune in and we’ll have a wider audience because often we’re restricted by who is able to travel to the Kansas City area for one day in April,” he added. “This way, we can reach a lot of friends and alumni across the states.”

The event is open to everyone, too, Astleford said.

“SpireFest isn’t exclusive for Saint Mary alumni and friends,” he said. “It is for anybody who believes in the value of a good, Catholic education. We would welcome anyone who values that to join us and be a part of this to really help out our students during this difficult time.”

“Our students really count on events like this,” added John Schultz, USM vice president for marketing and admissions. “This is our single biggest fundraiser for student scholarships each year. We are about 40% first generation and 40% Pell Grant (U.S. federal government aid) recipients. So, it’s a big help to them.”

A link for the event and the silent auction will be released April 20 via email and social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

For more information, visit the website or send an email to Bryce: at madeleine.bryce@stmary.edu.

About the author

Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson attended Xavier Catholic School, Immaculata High School and the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth. She majored in English and minored in music. Katie joined The Leaven as a freelance writer and photographer in May 2017. Her favorite assignment, though she’s enjoyed them all, was interviewing her dad, David, in 2017, after he completed his 100th shadowbox rosary, which he has been making as gifts since 1983. Katie’s full-time position is as reporter for the Fort Leavenworth Lamp newspaper.

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