For generations, the secular and Catholic ideal of Catholic schools have involved (plaid) uniforms or a religious sister. Maybe both.

The pair are certainly synonymous with Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix, and the latter will be prominent at the annual Night of Hope benefit celebration, a gathering that honors Catholic education and preserves its future. Xavier College Preparatory will host once again.

Night of Hope

5:30-10 p.m., Nov. 2

Xavier College Preparatory, 4710 N. Fifth St., Phoenix

Fundraising dinner and raffle celebrating all schools throughout the Diocese of Phoenix

Guests who mark themselves “present” or “here” at the Nov. 2 fundraising dinner will easily spot religious sisters exuding their notable charisms. The 34 religious communities who have served area schools since the diocese was established 50 years ago will be collectively honored as 2019 Guardian of Hope recipients.

Religious sisters started the first school in what would become the Diocese of Phoenix as early as 1892. “They have played an integral part in the education of generations of Catholics in Arizona. Honoring them is long overdue,” explained Patti Serrano, chair for this year’s Night of Hope.

Only 10 of the 33 preschool and elementary schools currently in operation today have never formally had a religious community present; half of those are not full K-8 campuses. Religious communities opened five-sixths of the high schools. The sixth had a sister present within two years.

A Dominican sister engages with a St. Thomas the Apostle student as she works on an assignment. Nine different religious communities have staffed the school since it opened. (File photo/CATHOLIC SUN)

St. Thomas the Apostle, which opened in 1953, holds the record with nine different religious communities in the classroom at some point. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have been a staple since 2006. The trio currently there cumulatively reach students in five different grade levels and others in the hallways.

Places like Xavier College Preparatory lead the pack for having the longest consistent presence of a religious community. Xavier opened in 1943 with three Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A different trio remain and have been fixtures there for 38-57 years.

Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, president of Xavier College Preparatory, celebrates Mother Mary Frances Clarke, founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with students.

Sr. Joan Fitzgerald, a Xavier Gator since 1962 and current president, is the diocese’s longest-serving sister at a Catholic school. She traced Catholic sisters in schools to the country’s colonization. Sisters met the educational needs of immigrants. Her community followed the railroad from the Midwest.

The Loreto Sisters came to Ss. Simon and Jude School from Ireland in 1954. Sr. Raphael Quinn, principal, arrived a year after Sr. Joan.

“The sisters bring many gifts — they are kind, gentle, encouraging and patient. Through their actions and deeds, they are true examples of God’s love,” said Serrano, both a Catholic school graduate and parent to two local alumni whose “sister time” was solely in high school.

Sr. Cabrini Thomas, a Daughter of Charity and director of St. Vincent de Paul school for five years this month, agreed wholeheartedly. “The gifts sisters bring to any institution is the gift that people look at us and know that God exists. By our appearance, we let people know that God is alive and well,” Sr. Cabrini said. She noted a marked difference when she was the first sister at a school in many years.

Night of Hope attendees should expect to see Sr. Cabrini and four other sisters in a video tribute. Each currently lead their respective elementary and high schools.

Diane Stein has affiliated with the Loreto Sisters at Ss. Simon and Jude as a student in the ‘60s and ‘70s and as a staff member for the last 20 years.

The sisters have a remarkable ability to remember alumni decades later and encourage students in their vocation.

Loreto Sister Raphael Quinn, principal of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School, receives a hug from a student on the first day of school Aug. 7. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

“The Loreto sisters were very good at identifying the gifts in each child and encouraging them. I still see it in Sr. Raphael,” Stein said. As testament, Stein pointed to Sr. Raphael who said she was a good writer. Stein went on to nearly 20 years in advertising and public relations and eventually launched a Ss. Simon and Jude alumni newsletter.

Expect alumni, community members, parishioners and business leaders to fill seats at Night of Hope and leave room for new friends. Serrano said it’s a wonderful mix of people each year committed to making Catholic education available to anyone who wants it. Funds answer emergency tuition prayers and build upon endowment monies.