The gift of Catholic education is a dream for many parents. The annual Night of Hope helps make that dream a reality, and it does it with a subtle blend of faith and flair by building support for the nearly 14,000 students who attend Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix.
More than 600 guests packed into Founders Hall at Xavier College Preparatory Nov. 5 for the ninth annual dinner. From the array of plaid tablecloths — one representing each Catholic school uniform in the diocese, courtesy of The Dennis Company — to the tasteful centerpieces that featured non-perishable food items destined for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, to the heartfelt testimonies of students who acted as masters of ceremony, the gala was a showcase of Catholic faith in action.
Coinciding with the tail-end of the Year of Mercy, the theme this year was one of sharing mercy with others. More than a dozen Catholic high school students took to the stage, two by two, as the evening unfolded, sharing their reflections on mercy and introducing Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and other notable speakers such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s executive director Steve Zabilski.
Lauren Lord, a senior at Notre Dame Prep, urged attendees to make a generous gift as “this year alone, there was a $19.4 million deficit between what families needed to pay tuition and the funds available” for scholarships and aid. Fifty percent of donations raised at Night of Hope go toward helping students and their families who need tuition assistance now, and the other half goes into an endowment fund for the future.
Zabilski zeroed in on his own gratitude for 13 years of Catholic schooling. “To our religious sisters who are here tonight, God bless you for not giving up on me,” Zabilski said. “I look at the blessings in my life and the Catholic education is at the very top.”
Bishop Olmsted presented the Guardian of Hope award — given each year to an individual or group that has had a positive impact on Catholic education — to the Franciscan Sisters of Charity. The sisters live and serve at St. Peter Indian Mission School in Bapchule, on the Gila Indian Reservation, where their community has been a constant presence since 1935.
The seven sisters, dressed in their simple black and white habits and veils, took to the stage and Sr. Martha Mary Carpenter, principal, introduced each of them, telling a little about their work.
“We live daily in hope — all teachers do,” she said, “but as Franciscans, we are more givers of hope … we live in hope because we are blessed.”
Sr. Pamela Catherine, the junior high girls’ teacher, created a video about the mission that featured photos of the waves of Franciscan Sisters of Charity through the years. Images of smiling sisters, some in a wagon drawn by horses, others instructing Native children, still others praying with the children in the humble mission church, rolled by as a soloist sang “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Images of the late MLB star Joe Garagiola, a major benefactor, were part of the mix as were a few shots of the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald.
The gala will be the last for which MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools, will be responsible. Mueller has announced she will retire in August of next year after 30 years of service to the diocese.
Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, BVM president of Xavier, told the crowd Mueller has “proven to be a great leader and has earned the respect of her fellow educators throughout the country.” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted presented Mueller with a bouquet of flowers and she received a standing ovation.