The keynote speaker for this year’s Salute to Catholic School Alumni Dinner March 5 has appeared on what may be the largest stage in collegiate athletics: College GameDay with ESPN.
Father Nate Wills is the football chaplain for the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. What makes him qualified to give the keynote speech at the Catholic Education Foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year is his day job. He serves on the faculty of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE for short.
ACE is an educational program with the mission of recruiting talented college graduates to teach in Catholic schools, according to the University of Notre Dame’s website. According to the ACE website, the program “sustains and strengthens under-resourced Catholic schools through leadership formation, research, and professional service to ensure that all children, especially those from low-income families, have the opportunity to experience the gift of an excellent Catholic education.”
Father Wills is a “dynamic speaker,” said Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation, which provides tuition assistance to Catholic school families in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“We have ACE teachers right here in Louisville, in this diocese,” Lechleiter said during a recent interview. “It’s sort of a beautiful program and we’re going to love to hear Father Nate talk about how the program developed.”
Last year’s dinner raised a record-breaking $1.5 million for tuition assistance.
“We want to at least equal what we did last year and hopefully we can get as high as $1.6 million” at the March 5 Salute, Lechleiter said. “Our goal is very simple: help more kids access Catholic education every year, period. That’s how we measure our success.”
The Catholic Education Foundation announced in a Feb. 5 press release that it awarded $8 million in tuition funds to 3,700 students last fall.
Lechleiter, in his 10th year at the CEF’s helm, said the level of success the foundation and its donors have achieved was just a dream a decade ago. In 2014, the CEF awarded $1.7 million in tuition assistance to 1,500 elementary school students.
“For nine straight years, every student that came to us and qualified for an award received one,” he said. “We’re super proud of that and grateful to all the donors who made that possible.
“Ten years ago that was a dream. And thanks be to God it’s now our reality. We want to continue that for the next round of students coming in.”
Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre said in the press release, “I am so grateful for this community’s staunch support of both the Salute dinner event and the work of the foundation. What a feat it is to aim for such an enormous result to support families across central Kentucky who want their children to attend a Catholic school but can’t afford its full cost. We are indeed blessed to work for their benefit and the futures of their children!”
During the March 5 Salute dinner, the foundation will honor eight people. Honorees include six distinguished alumni of Catholic schools, plus Charles Dahlem, president of Dahlem Realty, who will receive the Community Service Award, and St. Margaret Mary School teacher Julie Domzalski, who will receive the 2024 Father Joseph McGee Award.
Following are the honorees and brief biographical information provided by the Catholic Education Foundation:
Mariah Weyland Gratz, a Louisville native, attended Holy Trinity School and Mercy Academy.
She began her career at ABIOMED in Massachusetts. After five years, she returned to Kentucky to join the Weyland family real estate business. Gratz has served in several roles within the company and has been the chief executive officer since 2016.
She and her husband, Eric, have two children and are members of St. Francis of Assisi Church.
Father J. Wayne Jenkins, a retired archdiocesan priest, attended St. Brigid School in Vine Grove, Ky. The Elizabethtown, Ky., native also attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, where he earned a degree in philosophy and a master’s in divinity. His ministry began at Central State Hospital as its chaplain. He has also served in the Rural Office of Religious Education, as chaplain to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the Office of Priest Personnel. He served as associate pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., St. Helen, St. Margaret Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Trinity and Holy Spirit churches. He served as pastor of St. Catherine Church in New Haven, Ky., St. Denis, St. Barnabas and St. Albert the Great churches. He served as administrator pro tempore of Holy Trinity and Holy Name churches.
In 2016, Father Jenkins retired and now resides at Holy Trinity Church.
Honorable Annette C. Karem, a Louisville native, graduated from St. Francis of Assisi School, Assumption High School and Bellarmine University.
She currently serves on the Kentucky Court of Appeals after a career working as an Assistant Jefferson County Attorney, prosecuting domestic violence, crimes against children and sexual assault cases. In 2006, she was elected Jefferson County District Court Judge. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Chief District Court Judge and in 2022 she was elected to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
She and her husband, Scott, have three children and are members of St. Agnes Church.
W. James Lintner Jr. attended St. Raphael and Our Lady of Lourdes schools, Trinity High School and Bellarmine University. In 1971, he joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served as an active-duty Infantry Officer until 1974 and a Reserve Officer until 1977.
Lintner, who serves as president of River Hill Capital, began a career in the healthcare field following his time in the service. He co-founded CompDent Corporation in 1978 and in 1989 he founded the National Association of Dental Plans and served as its first board chair. In 1995, Lintner founded River Hill Capital, a private investment and advisory firm.
Matthew W. Ott attended St. Martha School and St. Xavier High School.
Ott serves as co-chief executive officer of Air Hydro Power, the same company he began working for as a St. Xavier student. He began as a shipping clerk after school and on weekends at age 15. He stayed on throughout college and joined the company after graduation, working in sales and customer support. In 1998, Ott and two business partners bought the company.
Charles D. Tewell attended Holy Name School, DeSales High School and Bellarmine University.
Tewell, general manager of CDT Real Estate, began his career at KFC. In 1987, he started at Ford Motor Company and 11 years later he joined YUM! Brands, where he eventually became senior director of information technology. In 2013, Tewell became vice president at NTT Data before retiring in 2016. He then launched a commercial real estate business, where today he serves as its general manager.
Community Service Award — Charles J. Dahlem, serves as president of Dahlem Realty.
The Louisville native served an eight-year term on Hosparus Health’s board of directors, where he chaired the organization’s $29 million capital campaign, the largest in its history. Dahlem also served on the board of directors of the Catholic Education Foundation from 2016 to 2022, chairing the board his last two years. During his tenure, the number of students earning scholarships jumped from 2,700 to a then-record 3,400.
Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Catholic Educator Award — Julie Domzalski teaches at St. Margaret Mary School.
Domzalski, a Louisville native, attended St. Margaret Mary, Sacred Heart Academy and Bellarmine University. She began her teaching career at St. Edward School, where she stayed for 21 years. In 2012, she joined her alma mater, where she continues to teach first grade.
She and her husband have a son and are members of St. Margaret Mary Church.
The Salute dinner, held at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, begins at 6:30 p.m. March 5 and doors will open at 5:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit ceflou.org and click on “Events” or call 585-2747.