During his presentation at the 32nd Catholic Education Foundation Salute to Catholic School Alumni dinner, which set an all-time fundraising record, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said Catholic education has a lasting impact.
The event, which took place at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville March 15, drew close to 1,200 people and netted $1.4 million for Catholic education. It was the first Salute dinner to be held in person since 2019 due to the pandemic, said Richard A. Lechleiter, the foundation’s president. Last year’s event, held virtually, raised $1.3 million.
Archbishop Kurtz took the place of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. Cardinal Dolan’s mother Shirley Radcliffe Dolan died March 12.
During his presentation, Archbishop Kurtz shared his first experiences in Catholic school. His first school was St. Mary Slovak School, a little school in northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal region, he said. His first school room accommodated three rows of desks where first, second and third-grade students sat.
At the end of his third-grade year, that school closed and he went to another Catholic school, he said.
“Schools open and close but the mark that is given to a student who receives a Catholic education, that never leaves. That’s permanent,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “And so we give testimony tonight for those who helped us become who you are today and helped build us as people of character and people of faith.”
Archbishop Kurtz urged those in attendance to recall the start of their Catholic education.
“Think about your own experience in Catholic school. Think about the teacher who most affected your life,” he said.
One of the sisters who taught him in seventh grade sent him cards every year on the anniversary of his ordination, he noted. “I hope every one of you has a teacher who has taken a personal interest in you.”
Those who have had such experiences in Catholic school may feel the need to pay back those who helped them, he said.
“All you can really do is pay forward. … All you can really do is help someone today receive what you received a few years ago,” he said.
During his time in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Archbishop Kurtz has worked to make Catholic education more accessible.
He shared with the gathering that in 2014, as the “cost of Catholic education was continuing to rise and the need was continuing to grow,” he began working with Lechleiter and with Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, to contact the 110 parishes in the archdiocese and ask them to assist families who needed help with tuition.
All 110 parishes agreed, said the archbishop. Since then, the parishes combined have given more than $1.3 million per year to support Catholic education.
“I want to say thank you to them,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.
“I am so in love with our Catholic school education and most especially with those who have received the benefit. I spend a lot of time confirming young people, most of whom are in eighth grade, and reading their letters and it’s a joy to me to see that the education that I received a few years ago is still being continued today,” said Archbishop Kurtz.
After his address, six alumni of Catholic schools were saluted during the event and two awards were presented. The alumni honored this year were Claudia M. Coffey, Joseph “Jody” F. Demling Jr., Deborah Akers Ford, Stephen T. Hamilton Sr., D. Hank Robinson and John A. Zoeller.
In addition, Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, accepted the foundation’s 2022 Community Service Award on behalf of all Catholic school teachers and staff. The 2022 Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Catholic Educator Award was presented to Lisa Lauder of St. Gabriel School.
Lechleiter said in an interview about the event that its success is a “great outcome for our kids.”
“The only reason we do it is so we can help more families. We’re helping the next new family walk in the door,” he said. “Every year our count goes up, we’re helping more kids.”
He noted that last year’s Salute, which was virtual, raised $1.3 million but had no overhead. This year’s event, which had an increased goal of $1.4 million, had in-person costs.
“Our number is net, so when we came back with $1.4 million this year, we’re really up $350,000 in terms of revenue. So we’re excited about that,” he added.