Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted presents superintendent MaryBeth Mueller with a bouquet of flowers during last year’s Night of Hope. Mueller, who retired in May, will be this year’s “Guardian of Hope” honoree. (file photo/CATHOLIC SUN)

This year’s “Guardian of Hope” honoree will receive another special recognition at the 10th annual Night of Hope Nov. 4. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted will present a papal award — the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal — to MaryBeth Mueller, who retired as superintendent of the diocese’s Catholic Schools Office in May after 31 years of service to the Phoenix Diocese.

The Guardian of Hope award recognizes someone who has had a major impact on Catholic education, a fitting tribute for Mueller, who initiated the Night of Hope 10 years ago. The gala raises funds for scholarships to help families that can’t afford full tuition for a Catholic education.

The papal medal she is set to receive — a gold Greek cross with an image of the Apostles Peter and Paul and the papal coat of arms — is bestowed on a person, lay or clergy, who has given distinguished service to the Church. The purpose of the medal, the bishop said, is to not only honor its recipient, but also to inspire others to serve God in exceptional ways.

“MaryBeth certainly has inspired many Catholic educators in the Church in Arizona and far beyond,” said Bishop Olmsted, who initiated the process for the award. Her efforts were not for personal recognition, but “to prepare our youth to be faithful disciples and joyful witnesses of the Gospel of Christ.”

“I was awestruck and humbled when Bishop Olmsted told me that I would be receiving the award,” Mueller said. “I don’t believe I did anything out of the ordinary except to use my gifts and leadership as a catalyst to empower others.”

She pointed to the bishops, diocesan school board, principals, teachers, staff and parents working together as the reason Catholic education is thriving in the diocese. Her passion, she said, was to “always have the students as the main focus” and do what was necessary for them to “have the best Catholic education possible.”

Night of Hope

When: 5:30-9 p.m., Nov. 4

Where: Xavier College Preparatory Founders Hall
4710 N. Fifth St.

(602) 354-2345

Kay Verdugo can attest to that. A scholarship her son received through last year’s Night of Hope event helped make Catholic education possible for her family. Last January, Verdugo was laid off from her job in corporate America after 31 years.

“First I went to the Adoration chapel and prayed — then I went to the school to tell them,” Verdugo said.

Her son Edward was in seventh grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale. Without her income, there was no way she and her husband could afford tuition. Verdugo, who used vacation time to volunteer at the school, said Catholic education for her family meant everything.

“I told my husband before we were even married that our children would be in Catholic schools.” The thought of having to pull Edward from OLPH was heartbreaking.

Verdugo said she had never needed tuition assistance before but applied for a Night of Hope scholarship. “It was humbling,” she said.

Receiving the help, she said, allowed Edward to remain at OLPH and “continue to grow as an individual and in his Catholic identity.” In the midst of the turmoil of losing a job and wondering how they were going to pay bills, the scholarship was a blessing.

Cathy Lucero, principal of OLPH in Glendale, said she’s grateful for the assistance school families receive through Night of Hope.

“Many families today have hardships that occur after all of the other scholarships are closed,” Lucero said. “The Night of Hope comes to their rescue and allows their children to continue to receive the gift of a Catholic education.”

That gift has grown considerably over the last three decades. Under Mueller’s watch, the Catholic Schools Office raised $33 million for school renovation, construction and expansion and also launched the first Night of Hope event in 2008. Harry Plummer, who succeeded Mueller as superintendent, lauded his predecessor’s legacy.

“MaryBeth will always be remembered as a remarkably effective, loving educational leader who was passionately committed to making Catholic education possible for every family truly wanting it for their children,” Plummer said. “Her impact on the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Phoenix has been remarkable.”