The community of Western New York came together to celebrate Catholic education in the community at the largest annual diocesan fundraiser for needs-based tuition assistance on Jan. 19. Organized by the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, the 17th-annual GALA 22:6, formerly known as the Making a Difference Dinner, the event included a presentation of awards to individuals and organizations who have gone above and beyond.
"It's my great pleasure to be with you again this year to celebrate Catholic education in the Diocese of Buffalo," Bishop Richard J. Malone told the community members in attendance at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. "On behalf of the more than 9,500 students and over 1,000 teachers and professional staff members who represent our 35 Catholic elementary schools and five private schools, along with our Catholic high schools and colleges in the diocese, I want to thank all of you for your continued support and commitment to Catholic education."
This year's Bishop's Medal recipients were the Buffalo Museum of Science, M&T Bank and the M&T Charitable Foundation, and Robert T. Scott, president of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Kenmore. Polly Lougen, a science teacher at St. Mary School in Swormville, received the Sister Lucille Soccarelli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award. Northern Chautauqua Catholic School received the Christopher M. Mazurkiewicz Education Scholarship Award. The inaugural Natalie Mattimore Lewis Kindness Counts Character Award went to Colleen Hennessy, a seventh-grader at Immaculate Conception School of Allegany County.
According to event chair Laura Zaepfel, the event is intended to support and celebrate "all that is great about Catholic education," including diocesan schools, principals and administrators, teachers and faculty, students and other members of the community. A "fund-a-student" challenge, led by auctioneer Eric Monahan of Cash Realty and Auction, raised an additional sum of $55,000 from event attendees.
"As a teacher, I want to thank and congratulate all of the administrators, teachers and staff members who are present to our students daily in our schools," Scott remarked. "We are together this evening to ensure that children from across Western New York have the opportunity to attend Catholic schools. This is a profound responsibility, but the shared mission that we advance is even more than that. Catholic educators truly are holders of the flame. We are the keepers of the faith, working together with parents, our Catholic schools plant the seeds in the next generation and nurture communities of the faithful."
The event's keynote speaker was Jonathan Shaw, an alumnus of Christ the King School in Snyder who is now a movie producer and director in Hollywood who created "Finding Noah," a documentary that was featured prominently in STREAM events during the 2016-17 school year at the Buffalo Museum of Science. It was a strong Catholic education that contributed to his continued success, Shaw noted.
"My prayer of thanks begins all the way back with my parents, a German girl from Buffalo's East Side and an Irish boy from the First Ward. As a young boy, I grew up with God's love in our home, and I knew that my mother, especially, had a direct connection with the Lord," Shaw commented. "I knew that because she used to speak with him in the first person, most of the time looking down and me and up to heaven, imploring, 'Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, give me patience.' She was tight with the big three. But what my parents valued most was a Catholic education. I have thanked them for that, for it has forever shaped me."
"The fundamentals I learned in Catholic school go beyond English, math and science, to the extra things my Catholic education taught me: compassion, empathy, a moral compass, a better understanding of my faith, the inner stuff," continued Shaw. "I've always had a love of stories. That's what drew me to the movie business, so as a student, I really looked forward to that portion of the day when we'd get out our catechisms ... Just like the blockbuster movies of today, I would transport myself back into those stories."
GALA 22:6 is named for a Biblical passage, Proverbs 22:6, which reads, "Train a child in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not turn from it." News broadcaster and Buffalo native Tim Russert instituted the Making a Difference award in 2001, which his son, Luke, continues to present each year to an educator.
"In addition to events such as this dinner and other fundraising initiatives ... The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo strives to grow permanent endowments which provide income from investments to further fund and expand Catholic programs and ministries," said Richard C. Suchan, executive director of the foundation. "In addition to this evening's dinner proceeds, endowed assets supply another $450,000 in direct tuition assistance, benefitting Western New York students and families in need through our alliance with the BISON Fund Children's Scholarship Fund and another $1 million in other forms of financial support and educational grants."