by John Shultz
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — To the Catholic community in Kansas, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher is a guiding light, a warm friend and a titan of Catholic education.
Now, on April 13, Archbishop Keleher will be honored for his commitment to the gift of Catholic education at SpireFest — the annual scholarship fundraising gala of the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth.
Archbishop Keleher, who has long supported the mission of USM, will be on hand at the Overland Park Sheraton to receive the university’s third annual Saint Marian of the Year Award.
“Honoring Archbishop James Keleher at SpireFest this year was an easy decision and a natural fit,” said USM president Sister Diane Steele, SCL. “Arch Jim has always been a great friend to our region’s Catholic schools — at every level.
“What’s more, Arch Jim is a frequent guest here at Saint Mary, always able to connect with our students, and leaving them with the desire to grow closer to Jesus. He is most deserving of this award, and it will be our honor to welcome him.”
Past recipients of the Saint Marian award include Ken Karr and Sister Vickie Perkins, SCL.
Archbishop Keleher is well known for his commitment to Catholic institutions of learning at every level — and for his devotion to the many benefits Catholic education offers to student development — intellectually, morally and spiritually.
Among his many accomplishments, Archbishop Keleher helped nurture the establishment of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) in Kansas. The CEF was founded during the archbishop’s tenure and has gone on to benefit multiple generations of Catholic school students.
Tom Zarda, a friend of Archbishop Keleher’s and — along with Rich Henry and Blake Mulvany — a founder of the CEF, said the archbishop provided instrumental guidance in establishing the organization.
The overall principle behind the effort was expressed by the group during the opening of St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
“If all we’re about is providing a Catholic education to the affluent, then we ought to shut this place down,” said Zarda.
“We, as parents, have a responsibility to do everything we possibly can to get our children to heaven,” he added. “And if we miss out on something, it’s our fault — it’s our fault because we didn’t do everything we could. The supporters of the CEF understand that.”
Archbishop Keleher described this long-standing support of Catholic ed as, essentially, a dedication to local youth.
“We want to give those young people a chance to develop their faith, as well as their educational abilities in all the fields they’re interested in,” he said.
“We want to see them productive and not just ‘getting by,’ but learning and enriching themselves personally,” he continued, adding that he appreciates the educational opportunities presented students at Saint Mary.
“I know it’s not easy, especially at the college level,” he said. “Some of those young people that come, they need help — and they get it at Saint Mary.”
In addition to his visits to the USM campus, a named Saint Mary scholarship has been endowed and funded through Archbishop Keleher’s generosity, benefiting USM students with financial need.
Scholarships are critical to the students of the University of Saint Mary. Many students arrive at USM with considerable need. About 40 percent of the traditional student body at USM represent the first in their families to attend college, and about 45 percent of the students qualify for low-income federal aid.
USM’s SpireFest charity auction event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to support student scholarships. SpireFest 2019 is at 6 p.m. on April 13 at the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel. To get involved or purchase tickets, go online to: www.stmary.edu/SpireFest or call (913) 758-6219.