Celebrating 30 years of tuition assistance

The choirs of Our Lady of Hope and Holy Cross schools combined to sing “The Love of Christ Urges us On,” written by Jeremy Lillig in honor of Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., and composed by Andrea Ramsey. The choirs sang as the annual School Bell Breakfast got under way May 2. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The 11th annual School Bell Breakfast, benefitting the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Bright Futures Fund, was held May 2 at the Marriott Muehlebach Hotel. When the call to order was sounded at 7:30 a.m., nearly 800 people —students, teachers, parents, alumni and supporters — stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The organization got its start in 1989 as the Central City School Fund, providing needs-based scholarships to families enabling their children to attend Catholic grade schools, one of the first such organizations in the country. In the 30 years since, the fund, now the Bright Futures Fund, directed by Jeremy Lillig, diocesan director of Stewardship and Development, has awarded more than 30,000 need-based scholarships totaling $76 million and assisting 15,000 families to send their kids to Catholic grade schools. The Bright Futures 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.

The website describes what they do: strive to challenge and encourage students to discover their full potential while developing a personal relationship with Christ. The money raised by this fund fully supports operating costs of the two Bright Futures Schools and subsidizes tuition for nearly 100 percent of students at those schools. Additionally, Honoring Family Scholarships and the Richard and Olivia Mock Scholarship Program provide assistance for families who wish to continue Catholic education for their children at select Catholic high schools.

Donors were generous this year. The School Bell Breakfast raised more than $600,000 for the scholarship fund. The breakfast was dedicated to Michael Strohm, a long-time member of the Bright Futures Board of Directors, who died last month. Lillig said the Strohm family attended the School Bell Breakfast.

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., led the attendees in Grace before Meals, and was honored by the choirs of Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope Schools singing a song entitled “The Love of Christ Urges Us On,” penned by Jeremy Lillig and composed by internationally recognized composer Andrea Ramsey. “The love of Christ urges us on” is the episcopal motto of Bishop Johnston, who was installed as bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese Nov. 4, 2015, and Lillig wanted to pay tribute to his service with a song.

‘The love of Christ urges us on, It lifts us up when we are down,
Like sunshine after the rain. The love of Christ urges us on.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
The love of Christ urges us on, It feeds our soul and lets us live in light,
Like harvest in the autumn or water cool and bright. The love of Christ urges us on.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
The love of Christ urges us on, It helps us see a friend in everyone,
And when we disagree, We can still live peacefully.
The love of Christ urges us on.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,

The day’s syllabus continued with the annual presentation of the St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dorothy Lambert awards. 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 Bright Futures Fund named Lloyd James “Jim” Kissick III, the posthumous recipient of one the Aquinas awards, for his long-time support of Catholic education in this diocese. The award was accepted by Jim’s nephew, Pete Brown, and the Kissick family.

The second Aquinas Award went to Wayne and Barb Snyder, members of St. Therese Parish north who sent all 12 of their children to St. Therese School; are longtime donors to the Bright Futures Fund; volunteer at One City Café, formerly St. James Place and at St. Mary’s soup kitchen; are active in the Right to Life committee; lector; serve daily Mass; and are extraordinary Eucharistic ministers. They have facilitated baptismal preparation since 1978, and have worked with Cursillo, Christ Renews his Parish and other adult faith formation groups for 24 years. They started with Catholic education.

The third Aquinas Award went to the Haggerty family, beginning with Connie and Gary Haggerty and now numbering 54, they believe in Catholic education, and the benefits it gives to the students, their families, the Church and the community — reasons for giving back to the community and helping others attend Catholic schools.

The Dorothy Lambert Award is presented annually to two Bright Futures teachers for their dedication, service and passion for urban Catholic education. This year’s recipients were Mark Santoro of Holy Cross School and Jennifer Cecina of Our Lady of Hope School.

Along with Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope schools, three schools partner with the Bright Futures Fund: St. Regis Academy in Kansas City, St. Mary’s School in Montrose and St. Mary’s School in Nevada. The three partner schools receive some scholarship help with the hope of expanding that assistance in the future.

A future program that is beginning now is Shine Brightly, bringing Catholic education to pre-K students through college, to help break the cycle of poverty. Within the next few years, Shine Brightly will begin by guaranteeing scholarship assistance to a Bright Futures school to 400 students annually, starting with 2-year-olds, taking them through grade school, to high school with the Honoring Family Scholarships and the Richard and Olivia Mock Scholarship Program and then to Avila University.

Kansas Citians being Chiefs fans, Lillig thought a panel of Chiefs players, a former player and the Voice of the Chiefs Mitch Holthus would be fun. Catholics Harrison Butker, kicker; and punter Dustin Colquitt, whose family became Catholic on Holy Saturday, were joined by Holthus, and former Chiefs running back Christopher Smith, who attended a Catholic high school which led to a football scholarship at Notre Dame University. They shared memories of games, of their rookie years, and their personal faith journeys.

They were followed by short talks by Bright Futures alumni Maria Rojas, who attended Our Lady of Guadalupe and Guardian Angel’s schools, currently a pre-med biology major at UMKC and Holy Cross alumna Gabriella Mesa, who graduates from St. Teresa’s Academy later this month as salutatorian. She will be attending Stanford University in their pre-med program. Lillig commented that the average high school GPA for Bright Futures school graduates is 3.3.

The breakfast ended with a short video focusing on male teachers at Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope.

The breakfast may be over for another year, but the Bright Futures Fund is continuing to help kids grow academically, morally and in faith, and working to break the cycle of poverty.

To learn more about the Bright Futures Fund, visit www.brightfuturesfund.org.


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November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph