Sr. Mary Norbert Long, SC, former principal of St. Mary-Basha Catholic School in Chandler, was honored at this year’s Night of Hope Nov. 3. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Supporters, alumni and educators came together to celebrate and sustain Catholic education at the fifth annual Night of Hope.

Schools throughout the Diocese of Phoenix contributed something to the Nov. 3 evening at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, including table centerpieces and handwritten thank you cards for each guest.

The crowd left with a better understanding of the financial need at the diocese’s Catholic schools and the fruit Catholic education bears within each classroom. Some 275 students throughout the diocese received $100,000 in immediate scholarship assistance raised during last year’s Night of Hope. Ninety percent of funds from this year’s event will do the same thing.

Holy Cross Father Paul Ybarra, parochial vicar and religion teacher at St. John Vianney in Goodyear, delivered the keynote address. He first came to the school as a teacher through the Alliance for Catholic Education before entering the seminary. It was in the voices of the youth and their silent witness during the liturgy that he found the divine Truth, Fr. Ybarra said.

On All Saints Day, he learned one of the school’s founding teachers is battling cancer. Her nurse was a graduate of a local Catholic elementary and high school.

“That is what we are about as a Catholic school,” Fr. Ybarra said. “We prepare leaders — people who are Christ-like to others in a very powerful way.”

It instills in them the humility necessary to bring about salvation in others, he said.

“More importantly, Catholic education does well by our children. It continues Christ’s ministry, nurturing their eternal salvation — the Church beyond us, the Church they will inherit,” Fr. Ybarra said.

Brett Jackson, a junior at Bourgade Catholic High School, said the 42 schools serving the diocese are alive with faith, hope and love.

“We are all anxious to live our faith out loud,” Jackson said.

It’s such commitment to outward expressions of the faith that prompted Night of Hope organizers to recognize Gary Brown, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries, by presenting him with the Guardian of Hope Award. It was Brown who suggested that Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries get involved in local Catholic education.

Catholic Cemeteries has sponsored the annual Catholic Schools Week rally and Night of Hope since the annual events began.

“Our mission requires us to proclaim, teach and defend the teachings of our faith,” Brown said.

Sr. Mary Norbert Long’s 28 years as principal of St. Mary-Basha School in Chandler earned her the Guardian of Hope Award reserved for educators. The Sister of Charity also served on a host of diocesan committees before returning to work at her religious order’s motherhouse last summer.

She said going where the Lord calls her has been her driving force for the last 55 years. Sr. Mary Norbert helped St. Mary-Basha develop enrollment and expand buildings.

“Most especially, I will cherish the many memories I have and the tremendous support for Catholic schools. Please keep that support growing. Our future is in the children,” she said.

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of schools, couldn’t agree more.

“The need for Christ-centered education is desperate and constant in today’s world,” Mueller said.

Support for tuition assistance has helped maintain a rather stable enrollment throughout the economic downturn in recent years. Some 14,000 students receive a faith-based education in the diocese.

Mueller acknowledged the sacrifices parents make to pay tuition and transport their children to sometimes distant campuses. But the benefits will last a lifetime, she said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares echoed Mueller’s call to prayerfully and financially support Catholic schools. The breakdown of the nuclear family and collapse of the moral fiber are only some of the reasons a Catholic education is so important, he said.

Beyond that, it helps students experience the love of the Holy Spirit, the beauty of the sacrifice of the Mass, and appreciate the lives of the saints, the bishop said.

“Let us continue to stand together for the sake of these precious souls of God,” he said.