By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Last month Catholic Education Foundation President Richard A. Lechleiter said he hoped the 2018 Salute to Catholic School Alumni dinner would raise $1 million. Such a sum, he said, would be a “miracle.”
Catholic school alumni, community partners and supporters answered the call and collectively donated a record $1 million to be used for tuition assistance — a total some thought impossible.
Last year, the dinner — which organizers describe as the largest of its kind in the Commonwealth of Kentucky — raised a then-record $825,000, which was $75,000 more than the 2016 total.
Year after year, the annual fundraising event shatters the previous year’s total, a fact supporters attribute to the community’s belief in the value of a Catholic education.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., delivered the evening’s keynote address and noted as he began that he was educated at Sts. Simon and Jude School in Brooklyn by Dominican Sisters who hailed from Kentucky.
“The accent is from Brooklyn. The stomach is from Italy. And my religious roots are from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said, drawing laughter and boisterous applause from the audience.
Bishop Caggiano told the sell-out crowd of 1,600 guests that they were gathered to “celebrate the miracle, the great gift of Catholic education.”
“It faces a challenge in so far as you and I are united in the hope and dream that every child one day who wishes to have this gift, to have it regardless of the financial state or situation of their family,” he said.
The bishop said when he looked at the packed house, he did so with hope.
“I look upon a room that gives me as a man of faith and a religious leader great hope. For your foundation in its 28 years of life has given hope to thousands and thousands of young people.
Bishop Caggiano said this is a time of continuing change for education and noted the many types available: public education, private education, charter schools, magnet schools, religious schools.
“In an unabashed way, I want to say to you what you already know — that Catholic education is unique, irreplaceable. I called it a miracle and it is in fact that in our midst,” he said.
The Connecticut bishop described Catholic education as “essential to the mission and life of the church.”
“We are not here to celebrate bricks and mortar. We are here to celebrate the lives of our young people. We are here to ask the Lord to bless those lives one person at a time,” he said.
The “miracle that we celebrate,” and the “unique mission that brings us together” is three-fold, he said. Catholic schools offer superior, excellent education that is about “the passing on of truths of the life that God has given us in all its beauty and grandeur,” he said.
“Catholic education … opens the minds and hearts of our young people and helps them become critical thinkers, gives them the courage to ask questions, for every answer leads them closer to the truth of the God that brings us together in faith. It allows them to develop their gifts and talents,” he said.
Secondly, he said, Catholic education is also the gift of formation.
“Every single life entrusted to Catholic education is molded in the values of the Gospel, the values that make us ultimately and authentically human. That calls our young people to step it up and to live lives of authentic virtue, to seize their destinies to become leaders of our nation and leaders in our church,” he said.
The third, and most important aspect of Catholic education, is transformation, said Bishop Caggiano.
“For Catholic education has the divine courage to call the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the one Lord and savior in every moment, in every class, on every field, in every instructor. For all that Catholic education does is to not just educate, not just form but to transform every young life into the image of Jesus the Lord,” he said.
The event was co-chaired by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and Gov. Matt Bevin. Gov. Bevin called education “a ticket to ride.”
“How far a person goes, what stop they choose to get off on is entirely up to them in large measure,” he said. “But when a child is never even given the opportunity to get on that bus to start riding, we have somehow failed them.”
The governor said the Catholic school system in Jefferson County has “tremendous capacity” to “fulfill so much of what ails the education needs in this county.”
“We need tuition tax credits. … They are the catalyst that can transform what happens in our community,” he said.
Two measures before the Kentucky legislature would provide tax credits to individuals who make donations to groups that grant tuition assistance, such as the Catholic Education Foundation. The Catholic of Conference of Kentucky, which represents the state’s four bishops, supports these proposals.
Following Bishop Caggiano’s address the CEF presented awards to this year’s distinguished alumni honorees:
Michael D. Brennan is chief executive officer of Brandeis Machinery Company and president and chief operating officer of its parent company, Bramco, Inc.
He is a graduate of St. Albert the Great and Trinity High schools and Bellarmine University.
He graduated from St. Martha and St. Xavier High schools.
McGrath, who is the second eldest of nine Lechleiter children (her brother Richard A. Lechleiter is president of the CEF) graduated from St. Stephen Martyr School and Sacred Heart Academy. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
She graduated from St. Thomas More School and Presentation Academy.
She graduated from St. Paul and Holy Cross High schools. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame.
Archbishop Thompson attended St. Charles School in Marion County, Ky., Moore High School and Bellarmine University.
He attended St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology and was ordained a priest on May 30, 1987.