When Arizona needed more priests to address aging clergy and keep up with growth, Ireland “sent its best” as the story goes.

Msgr. Michael McGovern (right) is pictured following the celebration of first holy Communion. Msgr. McGovern is among the Irish priests being honored this year at the Night of Hope Nov. 17. (Diocese of Phoenix archives)

Today, when there’s a shortage in family funds to pay school tuition, like the widow’s mite, someone sends his/her best, not just the leftovers, in the form of an emergency scholarship. Both stories have kept the Church in Arizona growing at a healthy rate. And both will be celebrated at the 11th annual Night of Hope Nov. 17.

The signature event put on by the diocesan Catholic Schools Office raises money for emergency scholarship needs while preserving 10 percent in an endowment. Last year there was some $600,000 in emergency requests due to medical emergencies, parent job loss, death in the family and more. Only 10 percent of that need could be met.

Night of Hope

  • 5:30-9:30 p.m. Nov. 17
  • Xavier College Preparatory,
    4710 N. Fifth St., Phoenix (map)

Celebration of Catholic ­education with dinner, student musical entertainment, lively program

Info/Tickets

Night of Hope also honors everyone and everything that makes Catholic education unique: wholly-formed and well-poised students, dedicated faculty, rigorous curriculum, age-appropriate commitments to social justice and families who choose — and very much sacrifice — to be there.

This year, there will also be a special emphasis on those Irish priests who led Arizona’s parishes and schools for so long. They’re collectively being honored as the 2018 Guardians of Hope.

Of the 60 priests who helped spread the faith in much of the Grand Canyon State, 23 remained in the Diocese of Phoenix when it was established. They served at 18 schools among them, plus five other standalone parishes. A handful of these Irish gems are still alive with some able to join in the celebration that evening.

Fr. Joe Hennessy, a Guardian of Hope honoree, hopes his health permits him to attend. The priest of 57 years has pastored six diocesan schools plus helped co-found St. John Bosco as part of a multi-parish effort and has awarded some $207,000 in scholarships to 20 deserving students over the years through his Aisling Foundation. Gaelic for “dream,” the foundation awards tuition money to students “who do the most with what they’ve got. It’s like the [Parable of the] Talents,” Fr. Hennessy said.

His foundation also awards a $1,500 scholarship to a boy and a girl at St. Matthew, St. Louis the King and St. John Bosco schools who somehow defended a fellow student in a bullying situation. The Gabriel Award is open to students in fourth through seventh grades.

The priest’s foundation happily steps in for emergencies, too. Fr. Hennessy awarded $15,000 through his foundation to Seton College Preparatory in Chandler toward the end of the last school year.

“There were some deserving kids that wouldn’t get their report cards. There were some kids that really were hurting,” he said.

This year, a freshman boy and girl at Seton are the first recipients of a scholarship that Fr. Hennessy named after his mom and dad. It awards half of the tuition, renewable each year, to a pair of students who show how their Catholic education is strengthening parish life and vice versa, among other criteria.

“The Catholic school system must instill a healthy love of self so that you’ll reach out and help other people,” said Fr. Hennessy, who wrote “Soul Searching” and always donated its profits to Catholic school and parish education efforts. “If a kid doesn’t have a healthy spirituality, then they’ll be looking outside rather than inside.”

Msgr. Tom Hever, another Guardian of Hope honoree, served at four schools of 200-500 students each before retiring in 2013. He recalled campuses as being great communities where even the parents formed friendships.

“Besides an excellent education academically, it has the added advantage of providing for a spiritual side, establishing a great spiritual foundation for life based on the Christian tradition,” Msgr. Hever said after doing his homework to create a polished statement.

The priest of 56 years, at least 51 of them in parishes that are now part of the Diocese of Phoenix, once shepherded St. Agnes, St. Catherine of Siena, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Perpetual Help schools.

When it came to school Masses, particularly in his later years, Msgr. Hever would walk down the altar steps to be closer to the children where he could give lively pop quizzes about the Gospel reading. The children were eager to show off their knowledge and listening skills.

Now, he loves seeing the children in their finest school uniform greeting guests at Night of Hope. Others showcase their musical abilities and some fearlessly stand behind the microphone addressing several hundred guests.

“It was a sense of achievement and support of what was accomplished,” Msgr. Hever said. He loved seeing how Catholic schools also help children develop physically and emotionally. Catholic schools also give students “a great sense of prayer and devotion to the Eucharist, a spirit of the Gospel, a spirit of reaching out to one another and an unspoken benefit of cooperation with one another,” Msgr. Hever said.

To further honor the priests and the Irish culture that helped form their vocation, this year’s Night of Hope will feature Irish dancers, a bagpipe player and Irish food.

Related: All the Saints of Ireland

About the Nov. 6 feast

Litany of Irish saints