School Bell Breakfast celebrates Catholic education in Bright Futures Fund

Lamar Hunt, Jr., delivers the keynote address at the School Bell Breakfast. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — About 700 people gathered in the Grand Hall of Union Station the morning of April 19 to share breakfast and celebrate a decade of fundraising to make Catholic education available to those in need in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph through the Bright Futures Fund. The school bell rang at 7:30 a.m., and the assembly stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Bright Futures Fund Executive Director Jeremy Lillig.

Next on the syllabus was Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., who thanked the assembly for their faithful support of Catholic education, and the Bright Futures Fund. He prayed to God in thanksgiving” for another day of life and the new life you have purchased through your Son … it is Jesus who is our daily bread. He also asked or heavenly assistance to the Bright Futures schools, “who help so many receive a quality Catholic education and go on to become saints.” The bishop then led the crowd in Grace before the meal.

Lillig introduced the Bright Futures Fund, saying that as of its 10th anniversary, the Fund had provided 28,000 need-based scholarships and spent $66 million in programs, physical plants and other elements of Catholic education. The schools, Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope in Kansas City, educate children of 10 distinct nationalities who speak four major languages, and nearly all live in poverty.

He then presented awards. The Bright Futures Fund’s highest award, the St. Thomas Aquinas Award, named in honor of the patron saint of Catholic schools, is awarded each year to individuals who give tirelessly to the mission of Catholic education. The recipients this year were the Nigro Brothers, “synonymous with charity, with auctions, and with western wear. They volunteer for over 50 auctions a year, raising more than $6 million annually for charity. Their string ties and black cowboy hats are recognizable at many charity events where attendees are encouraged to give generously to causes they love. Catholic education would not be the same without them, Lillig said.

Lillig commented that the next two recipients had worked closely with Lillig since day one. Along with Lillig and School Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters, they had “overseen the implementation of more than $4 million in physical plant improvements, the complete overhaul of technology within our schools, the implementation of a new reading and math curriculum, increased enrollment and expanded staffing, new programming in social services, and the list goes on and on. They strive day after day to improve the educational achievements of our students, striving to improve day after day. Most importantly, they make our students feel loved, they help them connect with Christ’s love and that is the most important gift they can give.” The awards were presented to Mary Delac, principal of Our Lady of Hope and Barb Deane, principal of Holy Cross.

Diana Welsh-Struby, a retiring Bright Futures Fund board member, was named Board Member of the Year and presented with an icon of the Holy Family.

The keynote address was delivered by Lamar Hunt Jr., a member of the founding family of the Kansas City Chiefs, owner of the Kansas City Mavericks, and founder of Loretto Charities. After thanking the attending priests, Bishop Johnston and Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., for the gift of their vocation, he prefaced his remarks with a recollection of a recent conversation he had with his youngest son John, a KU student. “He went to Catholic school for 12 years.”
He spoke of another recent discussion with a tax compliance manager, who suggested a pyramid of four things to learn: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Referring to wisdom, the manager asked the family to think of the word “convergence, coming together, unity, uniformity. That’s what wisdom is.”

He cited an example of convergence, St. Edith Stein, a brilliant Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism, entered a community of Discalced Carmelite nuns, and died at Auschwitz in 1942, a martyr of the Nazis.

He spoke of Roger Federer, who at 16 was a talented tennis player, but was a spoiled brat, a jerk who threw frequent temper tantrums. He couldn’t stand to lose a match. He eventually overcame the tantrums, and became a devoted family man and the world’s top tennis player in 2017, at the age of 36.

He then referred again to the Bible, “an ingredient we really need in our lives.” He quoted several reputable journalists who know little of the Bible or of “the seminal event in history — Easter, something that has shaped our lives to this moment in time.” The Bible is no longer taught in schools, Hunt said. “Ignoring the Bible is an education that skirts history. How can we understand music history without knowing something of Johann Sebastian Bach? How can we understand what Martin Luther King, Jr. or St. Teresa of Calcutta did if we have no understanding of the Bible? How can we understand the works of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus, Magellan and Columbus, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoyevsky or C.S. Lewis if we don’t know anything about the Bible?”

He then spoke of a young man, a college football player, who until he was 17 years old, was unable to read. Today, at 19, Elijah Kraft advocates education, especially for young African American men. “If schools close, we have nothing else to do except get into trouble,” he said. Hunt said he hopes to meet the young man someday, as he has more wisdom than most people. Kraft said the number one disability in America today is illiteracy.

Hunt also quoted from an article by George Weigel in the Wall Street Journal about Jesus and his Apostles, and us. “What happened to Jesus, their teacher and friend, was also about them personally,” Weigel wrote. “… His destiny was now their destiny, and our destiny. A promise had been made and was now fulfilled. The reality of the incarnation, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus should make us all turn our lives in a completely different direction. I think about Edith Stein and how her life changed radically.”

Hunt then referred to research on the Success Sequence. What makes a person successful? Education, work, marriage and children, in that order. A study of millennials showed that failing at any of them out of sequence often leads to failure and poverty, he said. We know from the Bible about that sequence in Jesus’ life. He was schooled, perhaps by the witness of Joseph, his foster father, perhaps in the Temple, but he was educated. He worked as a carpenter, perhaps even making collection calls to get paid, and he worked hard. His marriage was part of the Holy Trinity and we are all his children. His Success Sequence.

Returning to the topic of his son John, Hunt spoke of Judah taking the place of his younger brother Benjamin in slavery. He was courageous to do that, John remarked. “What are we willing to do to be courageous? What are we willing to step into and witness to in our faith? Hunt asked rhetorically. We have to put ourselves on the line. Jesus put himself on the line, he was a game-changer for sure, and he’s not going to expect anything less of us.”

He concluded by asking the assembly to prayerfully consider supporting the Bright Futures Fund, as “what they do is irreplaceable.”

A video of Our Lady of Hope School, featuring Mary Delac, teachers and students was shown. Lillig offered a few closing remarks and “Class dismissed!”

Brant Baca, Bright Futures Development Coordinator, said later that more than $200,000 was raised at the Breakfast in support of Catholic education.

To learn more about the Bright Futures Fund, visit


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October 19, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph