Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop emeritus of Buffalo, will be one of two recipients of the Bishop's Medal during the 2014 Making a Difference Dinner, set for Jan. 30 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center in downtown Buffalo.
The Bishop's Medal honors those people who have supported Catholic education locally. During his eight years as bishop of Buffalo, Bishop Kmiec transformed the diocese through his Journey in Faith and Grace campaign, restructuring parishes and schools to a more manageable size for the current population of Catholics.
In addition to Bishop Kmiec, the Bishop's Medal will be presented to Robert M. Bennett, chancellor emeritus of the New York State Education Department and member of the Board of Regents. Bennett has served as the chief executive officer of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and as a trustee of the Statler Foundation, the John R. Oishei Foundation and Catholic Charities. He has been credited as a friend to education, Catholic education in particular.
The annual Making a Difference Dinner is a major event for the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to help raise funds for tuition assistance for needy children hoping to attend area Catholic schools. More than 900 students were able to attend Catholic schools this year through the diocesan scholarship assistance program, with an average grant of $1,012 for each student. Last year's Making a Difference Dinner raised about 35 percent of the scholarship assistance program funds.
However, studies show that the average family income has decreased by 7.7 percent while tuition has increased 7 percent, and many families have been placed on a waiting list for financial assistance.
The keynote speaker to this year's dinner will be R. James Nicholson, former United States ambassador to the Vatican. Born on a farm in Iowa in 1938, Nicholson was accepted into the United States Military Academy and graduated from West Point. He was in the Army for 30 years, retiring as a colonel after serving in Vietnam.
Nicholson became a lawyer specializing in real estate, municipal finance and zoning law. He then left this firm in 1978 to form Nicholson Enterprises, a company designed to develop residential communities. After being elected as the chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1997, he helped George W. Bush win the White House. President Bush then appointed Nicholson as the ambassador to the Holy See, and Nicholson began a relationship with Blessed John Paul II that eventually led to him being knighted by the pope. During his time in Rome, Nicholson became an advocate for human rights worldwide, working to curb human trafficking and international terrorism while promoting religious freedom and food technology in Africa.
In 2005, President Bush appointed Nicholson as secretary of Veterans Affairs to help upgrade the care for those who have served the United States, especially those soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, Nicholson resigned from Veterans Affairs to return to the private sector as a lawyer.
In addition, a physical education teacher from Cheektowaga's Mary Queen of Angels School will be honored with the Father John Sturm, SJ, and Sister Lucille Socciarelli, RSM, "Making a Difference" award. Mike Wojcicki was selected as this year's recipient of the award following his 31 years as an instructor in Catholic schools.
The award is named in honor of the two teachers who inspired Tim Russert, the late host of NBC's "Meet the Press," during his childhood in Buffalo.