February 17, 2017

Record $7.1 million raised as annual event celebrates lasting gift of Catholic education

An archdiocesan celebration of Catholic education on Feb. 9 honored four individuals whose Catholic values mark their lives. Sitting, from left, are honorees Kevin Johnson, Kathy Willis and Van Willis. Standing, from left, are honoree Tom Spencer, archdiocesan administrator Msgr. William F. Stumpf and keynote speaker James Danko, president of Butler University in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

An archdiocesan celebration of Catholic education on Feb. 9 honored four individuals whose Catholic values mark their lives. Sitting, from left, are honorees Kevin Johnson, Kathy Willis and Van Willis. Standing, from left, are honoree Tom Spencer, archdiocesan administrator Msgr. William F. Stumpf and keynote speaker James Danko, president of Butler University in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

By John Shaughnessy

During a celebration when it was announced that a record $7.1 million has been raised in the past year to help children receive a Catholic education in the archdiocese, keynote speaker James Danko shared a poignant tale of how the world can be changed through the faith-filled actions of one person.

“Father Joe Danko, my dad’s twin brother, unfortunately died of a heart attack at age 36 in 1965 after serving as a diocesan priest [in Cleveland] for only nine years,” said Danko, the president of Butler University in Indianapolis.

“While dying young has a way of immortalizing people, the stories of my uncle are quite legendary and well‑documented.”

Danko then shared two telling stories about his uncle with the 600 people who attended the 21st annual Celebrating Catholic School Values event in Union Station in Indianapolis on Feb. 9.

(Related story: Spirit of caring, love of faith are evident in CCSV award winners)

The first story detailed what his uncle did right after he was ordained—writing a check that represented all the monetary gifts he received for his ordination, and giving the check to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith office.

Danko then told how his uncle later used all his inheritance from his parents’ estate to help finance a youth center in a poor area of Cleveland, which he helped build.

The two stories illustrate “the role of community service and social justice in the development of the human person,” Danko said.

He also told the audience, “Thank you for allowing me to share with you what I consider a Catholic educational lesson and Gospel as reflected through my uncle’s life.”

Later in his talk, the product of Catholic schools focused on how the privilege of a Catholic education calls people to use their values in a world that needs them even more today.

“How do I—how do we—allow the lessons we have learned to manifest themselves through our own talents and unique positions and platforms in life to positively impact our community and those around us to leave it a better place?

“I am quite confident that those who have provided us a strong Catholic education over the years would insist that we are mindful of and live out lessons about the greater good of our community and the world, and the importance of confronting injustice when we see it. To set aside greed, self-interest, prejudice and pride, and instead act, first and foremost, out of acceptance and concern for our fellow human beings.”

For Danko, that is the challenge and the blessing of being a university president. In that role, he tries to follow the example of his late uncle and his father.

“Ultimately, as a university president, I am a teacher of young people. While I am concerned about the destructive political and social environment in which we now live, and the negative influence of social media and certain fringe movements, I am optimistic about the rising generation of college students with whom I interact on a daily basis.

“Their openness to others, the values they place on community service and collaboration, and their global perspective are attributes that bode well for our future.”

Danko offered one more reason for his optimism—the continuing influence of Catholic education.

“I know that so many people in this room are working to instill within the next generation of leaders the Catholic values that are essential for us to be successful as a nation and as citizens of the world—to truly be, ‘Women and men for others, for the greater glory of God.’ ”

The Celebrating Catholic School Values affair was also a time to celebrate the $7,119,695 that was raised through tax credit scholarships and sponsorships for the event.

Most of the $7.1 million came through contributions to the Indiana Tax Credit Scholarship program. A Tax Credit Scholarship of at least $500 per child, given for one year, allows an income-eligible student to receive an Indiana school voucher the following year and for up to 12 years of education in a Catholic school—a potential of $60,000 in state voucher assistance.

“We unite this evening to celebrate yet another successful year of providing tuition assistance through tax credit scholarships to over 2,200 students in the archdiocese,” said Gina Fleming, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese.

“We are eternally grateful to all who contributed through prayer, volunteerism and generous donations. Know that you have aided in the formation of our youth so that they, in turn, can live abundantly in this life and in the next.”

Fleming also saluted the pastors, presidents, principals, teachers and staff members who dedicate their lives to serving the nearly 24,000 students in the 69 Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“Thank you for being who you are and for sharing your incredible God-given gifts with our youth,” she said.

Closing her remarks, Fleming asked for prayers for Catholic schools and the students who attend them.

“Remember our children as you plan for future giving. And know that the future of these young people rests in our collective hands,” she said. “With God’s grace and our collaborative efforts, our Catholic schools will not just survive, they will thrive—as will our youth—for generations to come.”

During the event, the archdiocese saluted four people for the way they represent the values of Catholic education. Tom Spencer and Kevin Johnson received Career Achievement Awards while Van and Kathy Willis were honored with the Community Service Award.

The awards were presented by Msgr. William F. Stumpf, archdiocesan administrator.

“We are proud to hear you share your stories with us tonight, and so grateful for everything you have done for Catholic education,” Msgr. Stumpf told the award recipients.

He also saluted all the people who contributed to helping make Catholic education a reality for families who need financial help.

“As you heard tonight, we set a record, raising more than $7 million in sponsorship and tuition assistance for families who want to send their children to Catholic schools,” Msgr. Stumpf noted.

“It’s also important to know that in 21 years of this event, we’ve helped raise $28 million.

“And so on behalf of all the children who will be able to receive a Catholic education due to your generosity, I want to say thank you very much for making a difference in their lives.” †

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