The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's largest annual fundraiser, GALA 22:6, kicked off the festivities Feb. 1 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, raising funds for needs-based Catholic education tuition assistance. The tuition assistance helps students attending Catholic elementary schools throughout the eight counties of Western New York.
"We're here with a very special mission and, as we succeed, our impact will be felt for years and years to come," said Bishop Richard J. Malone. "All throughout our diocese, each and every day, we are guiding young, eager minds as they prepare to embrace the future."
Starting in 2001, the fundraising event was originally known as the Making a Difference Dinner. It debuted as GALA 22:6 in 2015, taking its title from Proverbs 22:6, "Train up children in a way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart it." This references the importance of educational formation in the lives of children.
At a reception before the dinner, students from Catholic elementary schools presented STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) projects to those in attendance. From robots to Kitchen Chemistry experiments, students from several schools showed off their award-winning creations.
The evening served as a time to "recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to Catholic education," said event chairperson Father Joseph Rogliano.
"Tonight, we pay tribute to those whose work and dedication have been particularly impactful on students throughout their stewardship," Father Rogliano told those in attendance.
The Sister Lucille Soccarelli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award, which former "Meet the Press" host and local native Tim Russert founded in 2001, is given annually to a diocesan teacher who has demonstrated excellence in his or her classroom. The 2018 honoree was art teacher Mary McIntyre, of SS. Peter & Paul School in Williamsville.
McIntyre has taught at SS. Peter & Paul for 20 years. Always looking for innovative approaches, when her school became a STREAM pilot school, McIntyre jumped right in to learn how she could tie art into pre-K to eighth-grade curriculum.
"Being able to teach our young students about social justice in art and society, and using this to open the window for their voice and opinions, was a dream come true," McIntyre commented.
Russert's son, Luke, surprised attendees this year by delivering the Making A Difference Award in person. "As I said at the end of all those videos for all those years, if the Bills make the playoffs, I'd come do it in person," he said, referencing how he closed videotaped addresses at the dinner's previous years.
Russert downplayed his applause by asking the audience to clap not for him, but for Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback whose win over the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the season ensured the Bills made it to the playoffs this year after a 17-year drought.
The Bishop's Medal, which "spotlights a lifetime of philanthropy, faith and mercy," went to Tom and the late Judy Beecher; Barb and the late Jerry Castiglia; and Betsy and John Sullivan, all of whom were honored for their work as chair couples on the diocesan Upon This Rock capital campaign.
"Their tireless efforts and experience within the fundraising community of Western New York helped to ensure our success," said Father Rogliano.
The additional Bishop's Medal honorees, the Montante family and Uniland Development Company, were honored for their generous support of the STREAM initiative, a testament to the power of partnerships in Catholic education. They have funded the Finding Noah program, which brought producer and St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute alum Jonathan Shaw to Buffalo to speak to students, and supported interdisciplinary learning to educate children for the future.
Two young men from Immaculate Conception School in Allegany County were recipients of the Natalie Mattimore Lewis Kindness Counts Character Award. According to principal Nora Burdick, Jack Byrnes and Nial Rigas take the Golden Rule so seriously that it made it impossible to choose just one of them. Both are hard-working and also take faith and academics seriously.
"These young men never cease to impress me with their sincerity and kindness," Burdick said.
Richard Suchan, executive director of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, announced the Patrick P. Lee Scholarship Program, a new scholarship that will benefit eighth-graders who plan to continue their education at a Catholic high school in Western New York.
For this award, $1,000 will be given to the 13 most promising eighth-grade students, one for each of the area's Catholic high schools, who excel in math or science or demonstrate engineering proficiency and career interest. This will provide assistance for each of the students' four years of matriculation.
Suchan said of the scholarship's namesake, "Patrick used his blessings and gifts in ways that ensure the next generation will be able to find similar strengths and compassion."
Additionally, Suchan pointed out that students the dinner helped in 2001, the first year of the event, have graduated or are going to be graduating from college this year. He gave the audience a few stats to show how successful this fundraiser has been for Catholic schools.
In 2001, $123,000 in net proceeds went toward 162 financial aid awards. This year, the estimated proceeds of $275,000 will provide 203 students awards of $1,350 each.
While this is Bishop Malone's sixth year celebrating Catholic schools, it will be the last year for Superintendent of Catholic Schools Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ. Sister Carol will be retiring at the end of the 2017-18 academic year.
"What a night this has been for our Catholic schools. You are making a difference. You are lifting up our rising stars of Catholic education," Bishop Malone concluded.