Quality Dining Inc. hosted the annual You Can Lend a Hand Luncheons in Fort Wayne on Jan. 29 and South Bend on Feb. 1, during Catholic Schools Week. Twenty Fort Wayne-area and 22 South Bend-area educators were recognized during the luncheons with Light of Learning Awards for their faith and commitment to Catholic education.
“The Light of Learning Award expresses the ultimate goal of Catholic education, that we bring the light of Christ to every student, and each student will learn the importance of prayer, liturgy and service in their daily lives,” Marsha Jordan, superintendent of Catholic schools, explained. The Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend serve 13,637 students at 43 schools.
The awards highlighted inspirational teachers — one per school — and administrators who were nominated by fellow educators and community members, including parents. They enjoyed the event with co-workers, family members and parish leaders and also were honored at the luncheon by handmade posters that highlighted their professional work and their school’s use of the You Can Lend a Hand program donations.
Dan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Quality Dining, thanked the educators. “We are grateful for what you do. Thank you for being that person that other people would inspire to be, and for your outstanding vocation as teachers.” He then introduced a video on scholarship granting organizations, which offer scholarships to families considering Catholic schools but who do not qualify for the School Choice Program.
Begun in 2009 and expanded in 2011 with the Choice Bill, the Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana provides students in diocesan schools with financial assistance scholarships.
SGOs are a gift both to the donor and the recipient. A private individual or business can contribute unrestricted funds directly to an SGO or earmark their gift to a particular diocesan school; in return, they receive 50 percent Indiana state tax rebate and their gift might be eligible for a federal government income tax deduction of up to 30 percent. A $1,000 donation could end up costing a donor only $200, after tax savings.
Calling SGOs a “powerful game changer for our schools,” Fitzpatrick praised the program. Over $4.3 million have already been shared with families in need, “making Catholic education accessible to everyone.”
Two exceptional philanthropic couples, John and Katie Anthony, South Bend, and Pat and Steve Spoltman, Fort Wayne, also were honored at the luncheon. They were awarded the Msgr. J. William Lester Award for their dedicated commitment to the community and Catholic schools. Named for the priest, former superintendent and dedicated supporter of Catholic education in the diocese, “who wisely recognized the need for two Catholic high schools on either side of the diocese, remarking that each would strengthen the other, Msgr. Lester loved everything about our Catholic schools and always provided great wisdom to administrators, teachers, parents and other priests,” Jordan recalled.
The event highlighted 36 years of You Can Lend a Hand supporting area Catholic schools to the tune of over $10.2 million. The funds are raised by students who sell $3 coupon books that offer discounts at Quality Dining restaurants and local, family venues. Chuck Freeby, the event’s emcee in South Bend, highlighted the use of the YCLH program funds, from technology in the classroom to special field trips, playgrounds, emergency repairs, teacher salaries and even general funds.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades addressed those in attendance at the luncheons, speaking of his regular visits to the schools and noting that faith is evident in so many classes, not just in theology courses. “I am very proud of our Catholic schools and, as you know, I am a firm believer in the importance of the mission of Catholic education.”
He highlighted three key elements at the heart of the mission of Catholic education, goodness, truth and beauty. “These elements go back to the Greek philosophers and are central to the Catholic intellectual tradition. They are among what are the “transcendentals,” in that they are timeless and universal attributes of being. They reflect the divine origin of all things and the unity of all truth and reality in God.”
Focusing a moment on each attribute, Bishop Rhoades quoted Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Los Angeles, reminding all of their vital presence in Catholic history. “Christians cared, not only for their own, but they cared indiscriminately for anyone who was in need. It was their goodness, it was the radicality of the Christian life that got the attention of the world.”
He then connected beauty, truth and goodness to the present audience, “We see this throughout the history of the Church, people inspired by the goodness of Christians, by saints like Francis of Assisi and perhaps the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata. The goodness of our Catholic school educators, their love for their students, has the greatest evangelizing power.
“I see every Catholic school as a school of evangelization. And how does it evangelize? Through truth, goodness and beauty! That’s what we are about. We all need to step up our game if we are going to evangelize young people today. We need to introduce them to great Catholic thinkers and truly engage their questions and not be afraid of their questions. We should engage our students with the arguments for the existence of God. We should engage them with the ultimate questions dealing with life and human existence, questions that point to God. We should help them to embrace the great Catholic intellectual tradition. We want our students to experience the beauty of the Catholic faith in our schools through all these ways: music, art, poetry, the liturgy, the Bible, the saints, and the greatest of all, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.”
Lastly, he reminded the faithful of what is most important, the souls of their students. “And we’re serving the ultimate happiness of those whom we teach and serve, their eternal life with the One who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, eternal life with the saints in glory. I can’t think of a better mission and vocation. Thank you for all you do to support this great mission!”
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