The results of Catholic education were on display. From the handmade robots to the generous donations to the touching video of a grad who tragically passed away, Gala 22:6 showed the power of what a Catholic education can do.
Held Jan. 28 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Gala 22:6, a Celebration of Catholic Education, gathered educators, students and benefactors to share what is good about Catholic schools in the Buffalo Diocese. The name comes from Proverbs 22:6, "Train up children in a way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it."
Co-chairs Pia and Eugene O'Connor welcomed Bishop Richard J. Malone, who delivered a state of education in the diocese address, highlighting the value of our Catholic schools.
Bishop Malone said the 35 elementary schools and five private schools with nearly 10,000 students are "vibrant, robust and poised for continual growth and excellence."
The bishop reported that the STREAM program, which allows students from pre-K to eighth grade to engage in science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math through the use of robotics, architecture and Bible study, has garnered national attention. Sixteen other dioceses have turned to Buffalo for information on the program. Students' displayed examples of their work before the dinner.
"It's truly innovative. It's based on real-life learning. It's preparing out children for the future, and providing a foundation to help them prepare for and prosper in a world none of us has ever seen," the bishop said.
Business First's ranking of the area's top schools showed four of the top 10 elementary schools, four of the top 10 middle schools, and three of the top five high schools are Catholic.
Catholic elementary school graduates earned more than $3.2 million in high school scholarships this past year, while high schools grads earned $138 million in college scholarships.
Catholic schools have formed partnerships with the Buffalo Science Museum, the Darwin Martin House and other institutions to provide students with valuable lessons outside the classroom.
Catholic schools are also working with Catholic Charities to provide social workers to the schools to help when a family situation interferes with a child's learning. The goal is to have a social worker in each of the elementary schools.
The Catholic Alumni Partnership brings grads back to their elementary schools to mentor, coach and provide career exploration and serve on school boards.
"I've met some of these young adults," Bishop Malone said. "We're delighted with this addition. There is a tremendous energy and passion for helping the schools now that they have been able to see clearly what the schools have done for them."
"Catholic education in our diocese is not merely surviving. It is alive and well and flourishing into the future," the bishop said.
The Bishop's Medal, which goes to individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on the mission of Catholic education, was presented to Amy Habib and Judith Nolan Powell.
Habib and her husband founded the Amy J. and Halim A. Habib Family Endowment Fund with the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to support Catholic education.
"My children and I are indeed humbled and honored to receive the Bishop's Medal this evening," Amy Habib said. She cited her parents' example of philanthropy as her model of generosity. "We in turn have tried to continue the family legacy by serving on community, school and college boards. Our particular interest has been in education, both non-sectarian and religious schools, because of the scholarship needs in these institutions. We feel compelled to help students receive an education from these fine schools."
Powell has served on the Board of Catholic Education for the diocese during her long career in banking. She even served on the marketing committee that started the education dinner 15 years ago. She continues to serve as board chair at Niagara Catholic Jr./Sr. High School.
Powell quoted St. Francis of Assisi in her acceptance speech. "For it is in giving, we receive."
"It really describes what we celebrate tonight," she said. "In Niagara Catholic's case, when we give the entire community benefits."
She demonstrated that idea by listing the many people to come out of Niagara Falls Catholic schools including Mayor Paul Dyster, Catholic Charities director Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, and Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn.
"They're all leaders who exhibit confidence and integrity, heal the body and the soul, serve those who have and have not. They're all virtues and character traits they learned within the walls of a Catholic school," Powell said.
As is the tradition, Luke Russert gave a pre-recorded video presentation to the recipient of the Sister Lucille Socciarelli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award started by his father, the late Tim Russert.
Recipient Judith M. MacDonald, principal of Southtowns Catholic School in Lake View, has served Catholic schools for more than 35 years. Her philosophy in teaching has been to teach as Jesus did, with understanding, compassion and encouragement. She thanked her sisters, mother, the sisters of St. Francis of Stella Niagara who taught her, the principals and pastors she has worked with including Msgr. John Zietler, who passed away Jan. 11, and Father Peter Karalus, current canonical administrator of Southtowns Catholic.
"To say I am overwhelmed and humbled by receiving this prestigious award would be an understatement. It is a privilege to be in the company of the educators who have come before me and received this award. Their work have influenced and changed the lives of hundreds of students in their communities and far beyond its borders," she said.
Kind Nutrition bars were placed on tables with a picture of 2007 Nardin Academy graduate Natalie Lewis, who died in 2014 in a hot air balloon accident. Her motto, "Kindness can change the world," was formed in her Catholic education according to her father, Evan Lewis.
Sponsored by the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, the event set a goal of raising $330,000 to fund need-based tuition assistance to families with children attending Catholic elementary schools around Western New York. Over 1,380 students of Catholic schools, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, receive diocesan scholarship assistance. The average grant is $1,275.