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At a time in which faith and virtue are under attack, Catholic education continues to help students hear the voice of God and become disciples of Jesus Christ.

That was the message at this year’s Night of Hope, the annual gala in the Phoenix Diocese that grows scholarship monies for families faced with financial and personal crises but who desire to keep their children in Catholic schools.

The event is the brainchild of recently retired Catholic schools superintendent MaryBeth Mueller who was honored this year with the Guardian of Hope award. She was also presented with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, a papal award for her distinguished service to the Church.

Harry Plummer, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix, (Duke Photography photo)

Harry Plummer, who became superintendent of Catholic schools over the summer, spoke of the “tsunami of secularism” that students in today’s society face. “Our schools give students tools to discern the true, the good and the beautiful when confronted with the dehumanizing forces present in today’s society,” Plummer said. He lauded Mueller’s work, calling her an “amazing” leader who dreamed big.

That dream fueled the building of new Catholic schools in the diocese and helped keep them accessible to families, Plummer said. “I think in a very real way the mission of Night of Hope is one of the many profound expressions of her highest priorities.”

Last year the gala raised some $90,000. Ninety percent of funds raised each year helps alleviate immediate scholarship needs throughout the diocese. The other 10 percent is placed in the Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s Leaders endowment fund that meets future needs.

Mueller, who received two standing ovations during the evening, said she never expected to receive the Guardian of Hope award or papal medal. “It is truly overwhelming to stand here before you.”

Across the nation, many Catholic schools are in jeopardy, Mueller said, but in the Phoenix Diocese, “we have so much to rejoice about. Our enrollment is growing and we will open a new high school next August.”

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As superintendent, she said the hardest day of her life was when she knew the schools needed $50,000 in scholarship assistance but there was only $40,000 to offer. “I knew there would be kids who wouldn’t be able to go to Catholic schools,” Mueller said. “It made my stomach hurt.” That’s why Night of Hope was instituted.

Diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Fr. Fred Adamson and Chancellor Dr. Maria Chavira joined Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on the stage to present the papal medal.

“In the name of Pope Francis, our Holy Father, I present the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal and the papal bull to you, MaryBeth,” Bishop Olmsted declared. In his remarks to the crowd of more than 600, the bishop thanked them for their support of Catholic education.

“Thank you for your love for children and your commitment to Catholic education,” Bishop Olmsted said. “We want our children to shine like the stars, filled with hope and shining with love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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