By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — For eight years, members of the Kansas City Catholic community — business and civic leaders, local philanthropists and nationally known educators, diocesan officers, priests, religious sisters, faculty, staff, students and parents of the schools benefited by the Bright Futures Fund — have gathered to share the fund’s School Bell Breakfast.
Yes, the school bell rings early, but they’ve attended to applaud the work of the schools and the students, to raise awareness of the value of Catholic education and the needs of families struggling to give a Catholic education to their kids, and to raise funds to provide them need-based scholarships.
In past years, attendees met and shared breakfast with students from Holy Cross, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Angels schools; many adults also exchanged ideas and shared some laughter and hopes with the kids seated at their tables.
The eighth School Bell Breakfast will stand out for many reasons: a new bishop leading the invocation; a new venue; record breaking attendance; record breaking funds raised; this school year saw three new schools added to the Bright Futures Fund and will see Our Lady of Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe schools consolidated into a new school opening this fall.
Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., spoke briefly about our dependence on each other contributing to our discovering the best in others and the best in ourselves. In his prayer before the meal he described the breakfast as another sign of God’s love. And it was good!
Jeremy Lillig, Diocesan Director of Stewardship and Development which oversees the Bright Futures Fund, said 863 tickets to the breakfast were sold. Attendees met students from Holy Cross, Our Lady of Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe schools and this year, a student, several faculty members and alumni of St. John Francis Regis School in Kansas City and the eighth grader at St. Mary School in Montrose. St. John Francis Regis School, St. Mary School in Montrose and St. Mary School in Nevada are new to the Bright Futures Fund.
Each year several awards are presented to teachers, members of the community who have in various ways have contributed much to the diocese, to Catholic schools and to Kansas City, and in recognition of teachers and school staff retiring after many years of service.
The Consentino family, a familiar name in Kansas City as owners of Price Chopper and other food stores, has long been promoters of personal service, community commitment and building relationships, one customer at a time. They have also helped Holy Cross School, which family members attended, and have supported financially over the years. The Bright Futures Fund awarded the family, descendants of Jim, Jerry and Dante Consentino, Sr., one of two St. Thomas Aquinas Awards, given to a person or persons displaying advocacy for the poor and for Catholic education.
After thanking Lillig and the Bright Futures Fund, Donnie Consentino (89) introduced his family. He spoke briefly about Holy Cross School and concluded by reciting a short verse which ended, “I love you all, just the way you are!”
The second St. Thomas Aquinas Award was presented to Father Tom Hermes, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish and principal of its school, St. Mary, in Montrose. He accepted it and turned the podium over to one of his students, Brendan Engeman.
Brendan’s talk was a highlight of the breakfast. St. Mary – Montrose’s sole eighth grader shared a bit of rural Missouri with the city folks and then got down to business. He detailed what he saw as the value of a Catholic education.
“Catholic schools have high standards … excellent academics, which guarantee a fantastic start, a productive career and responsible citizenzenship. Catholic schools are based on moral values … a place of fewer bullies, a place filled with kids who want to do the right thing. A Catholic school is … a loving, supportive community where parents, peers and parish members provide the ‘village’ to train each child. Catholic schools produce leaders, speakers, and doers in this world of instant communication. ‘Go out and make a difference’ is still the motto we can quote by heart. Lastly, Catholic schools permit us to practice our faith and traditions on a daily basis; students freely discuss religion, ask questions about God.”
Following humorous examples of each, Brendan said he intends to pass down the wealth of tradition and faith to his own children someday, but for that moment, “I want to thank you again for your personal sacrifices as you make the decision to share the wealth of a good education with the youth of this diocese. I have collected the benefits of your love and generosity … In time, I will be able to pay it forward, just as you have done for me.”
Lillig then announced the Icon Award winners, teachers retiring from a Strong City School after 15+ years of service: Helen Pueschel, 16 years; Maria Sanchez-Chastain, 25 years; JoAnn Walkenhorst, 22 years and Sharon Oswald, 20 years.
The Dorothy Lambert Award is given to the Strong City Schools teacher who best exemplifies the legacy of Dorothy Lambert, long-time educator and the first lay principal in the Diocese. When Lambert, who died in 2006, was asked about Catholic education, she replied, “It is our mission to help children realize the importance of education along with learning the love of Jesus.” The 2016 Dorothy Lambert Award was presented to Holy Cross School middle school teacher, Wendy McKellar.
Lillig announced that a name had been voted on for the new school —Our Lady of Hope School will open in the former Derrick Thomas Academy this fall, with the first students coming from Our Lady of Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe schools, which will close at the end of this academic year. He added that, as Lamar Hunt, Jr., had been instrumental in the diocesan acquisition of the new, fully equipped, state of the art school building, Our Lady of Hope School, its athletic fields and playground will be housed on the Hunt Family Campus. A memorial chapel in the school building will be named in honor of Sister Thea Bowman. Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Thea Bowman (1937 – 1990) was a religious sister, teacher and scholar, who served as an evangelist to her fellow African Americans. Before her death from cancer in 1990, Sister Thea became a popular speaker on spirituality and faith. She helped found the National Black Sisters Conference which provides support for African American women in Catholic religious institutes. She has been proclaimed a Servant of God, the first step toward sainthood.
In a video, Lidia Bastianich, owner of Lidia’s Kansas City restaurant, renowned chef, cookbook author and, recently, a Defender Sponsor with Bright Futures Fund, expressed her views on the value of Catholic education. She credits Catholic Charities for helping her parents immigrate to this country, find housing and employment when she was a child. Lidia is a product of Catholic schools, her son and daughter attended Catholic schools and, as she said in the video, “Catholic schools are communities where families can feel safe.”
The keynote address was given by Matthew Kelly, internationally acclaimed speaker, author and business consultant. He spoke on the topic of dreams. “Everyone has dreams,” he assured his audience, young and old. We have to acknowledge both “the importance of dreaming and of helping others fulfill their dreams … We are all called to be Dream Managers (the title of one of his books) … Catholic education has helped people dream and realize those dreams for hundreds of years … Here, people are dreaming big dreams for their city again.”
Every dollar raised at the Breakfast was matched by Rita and Lamar Hunt, Jr.’s charity, Loretto Charities.
Hunt received a surprise “thank you” from Lillig and the Bright Futures Fund for Loretto Charities’ generosity and assistance. While working for the Friends of Chamber Music, Lillig had become acquainted with Lee Hartman, musician, composer, conductor, professor, and editor-in-chief of KC Metropolis, an online journal of the arts.
Lillig commissioned Hartman to compose a piece to be played in Hunt’s honor at the School Bell Breakfast, complete with a vocalist, piano and flute accompaniment. Hartman agreed to do it, and the result was “The Real Questions.” The text of the piece was adapted from writings of author Henri Nouwen, one of Hunt’s favorites, and the flute accompaniment was in recognition of Hunt having played the flute in the Kansas City Symphony for nine seasons.
“The Real Questions — Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions,” was performed by Garrett Torbet, tenor, Sandra Fernandez, flautist, and Jordan Buchholtz, pianist.
The 2016 School Bell Breakfast realized $835,504, including the matching grant from Loretto Charities, an increase of more than $80,000 over last year. Rebecca Quinlan, director of the Bright Futures Fund, said more is “trickling in” daily. As always, 100 percent of the funds raised will benefit students in the Bright Futures Fund schools.
For information on how to help Bright Futures Fund reach the $1 million mark, or to learn more about Bright Futures, what it does and whom it serves, visit www.brightfuturesfund.org.