Diocese raises $100K for Catholic scholarships capped off by annual Night of Hope

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Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted presents the Guardian of Hope Award to the Irish priests who served the Diocese of Phoenix in its early days at the Night of Hope Nov. 17. Accepting the award on behalf of their fellow Irish missionaries are (from left to right) Msgr. Michael O’Grady, Fr. Joseph Hennessy and Msgr. Thomas Hever. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)
Night of Hope

Night of Hope will continue to accept donations towards emergency tuition assistance through the end of calendar year.

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Hailey Infante dreams of one day helping heal people with kidney problems. But when her mother became ill a few years ago, it appeared the Catholic high school education Hailey sought to help realize those dreams was in jeopardy. Instead of setting aside money for tuition, Hailey’s family was forced to pay medical bills.

That’s when the Diocese of Phoenix approved her application for a scholarship, allowing her to attend Xavier College Preparatory. The 17-year-old senior hopes to pursue her medical studies at UCLA or Harvard.

“Without a scholarship, I don’t believe I would have been able to attend Xavier,” she explained Nov. 17 at the 11th annual Night of Hope. The event is the diocese’s annual gala that celebrates Catholic education and raises money for scholarships in situations like Hailey’s.

“I am here tonight because of your generosity,” she later told the approximately 550 or so guests. “I do not need to worry because God is beside me throughout this journey.”

It is a journey dozens of students find themselves on, and at each gala, donors are asked to help families with unexpected financial burdens keep their children in a classroom setting that supports their faith and strengthens their character.

“Without Catholic education, I don’t know where I would be as a person,” said Alexis Reyes-Lee, 17, a St. Mary’s High School senior who plans to become a missionary. “At a public school, you would not be able to discuss God or express our faith. At a Catholic school [class] gets to the deeper questions such as, ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What is my purpose in life?’” she said.

Catholic high school students shared their testimonies at the Night of Hope Nov. 17. From left to right are Xavier College Preparatory junior Brenda Perea, 16, St. Mary’s High School senior Alexis Reyes-Lee, 17, and Xavier senior Hailey Infante, 17. “Without Catholic education, I don’t know where I would be as a person,” Reyes-Lee told THE CATHOLIC SUN. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“I understand my responsibility to make the world a better place,” said Nolan Dunn, 17, a Bourgade Catholic High School junior and parishioner of St. Thomas More in Glendale. “I treasure the lifelong friendships I have made and am grateful for that every day. You get time before class and at lunch to pray and relax,” he added.

“I originally attended public (high) school. I received scholarships that covered about half my tuition,” explained Brenda Perea, 16, a Xavier Prep junior who plans to study nursing. “My parents each have two jobs. I don’t get to see them as much, but I understand they are sacrificing. Attending (Catholic school) allowed me to understand why we are here and get closer to God. I used to think, ‘I’m Catholic because my parents are.’ Now I know what it is to be Catholic, and I am grateful for that,” she said.

During the program, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted paid tribute to the diocese’s Irish missionary priests, who were honored with this year’s Guardians of Hope Award. Given annually to individuals and groups that have had an influential impact on Catholic education in Arizona, the 2018 honor singled out Irish priests — many no longer alive — sent by the Church decades ago to lead the Grand Canyon State’s parishes and schools. A number remained after the diocese was formed.

“These Irish missionaries heard Jesus call them and freely gave their lives to go wherever God called them. Each was successful here because he lived the great mystery of the Cross: sacrificial loving,” Bishop Olmsted told the attendees after three of the priests — Msgr. Michael O’Grady, Msgr. Thomas Hever and Fr. Joseph Hennessy, accepted the award.

The Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Schools Office said fundraising has topped $100,000 this year, capped by the gala. Ninety percent of that will go toward immediate scholarships and the remaining 10 percent to Today’s Children Tomorrow’s Leaders endowment to build capacity to help families with tuition needs in future years. Schools will receive the Night of Hope grant application in December that they must return to the Catholic Schools Office by mid-January. The goal is to distribute emergency tuition funding in early February 2019.

Deb Preach, school liaison and director of advancement and donor relations for Catholic Education Arizona, presents a check to Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Schools superintendent Harry Plummer during the Night of Hope Nov. 17. Catholic Education Arizona announced CEA would match the gala’s donor gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Tara Bethell, interim CEO of Catholic Education Arizona, announced CEA would match the gala’s donor gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000. A separate 501c3 not-for-profit tuition-assistance organization that supports 38 Catholic schools throughout the diocese, CEA uses tax-free donations from Arizona taxpayers who contribute under the Arizona Private Education Tax Credit Law (ARS 43-1089).

The diocese can use every dollar it gets. Keeping youngsters in a Catholic classroom sometimes means the school itself dips into its resources, pointed out diocesan Catholic Schools superintendent Harry Plummer.

“Some of these schools have very tight budgets, and even if they wanted to, they could not make payroll if they carried the student. We don’t want anybody to ever leave Catholic schools because of finances. Yet, we still have to keep the lights on,” he explained.

Former superintendent Marybeth Mueller, who established the Night of Hope, said needs appear to be increasing. “Many parents will look at the end of the first semester and say, ‘I can’t keep my child in Catholic school.’ They will pull them out, and we don’t want that to happen. I truly believe we made a difference,” she said.

“Catholic education helps our young people be enlightened by the Word of God, especially by encountering the living Jesus Christ, equipping them to be great witnesses to others. This is a great evening to celebrate that and help others be part of this in the future,” said Bishop Olmsted.