Address Given at the 2017 Golden Eagle Gala
Radisson Hotel Banquet Hall, Hermitage, PA
29th April, 2017
My warmest welcome to all of you this evening and, especially, to our honorees – Beth Cicuto and Angela Lombardi, and their families. Welcome, also, to my fellow administrators: Mr. Bill Lyon, our Headmaster and Middle School/High School Principal, Mrs. Heidi Patterson, our Elementary School Principal, Mr. Bill Blum, our Director of Finance, and Mr. Jeff Linn, our Dean of Enrollment. Also among them, and deserving of special recognition tonight is Mrs. Janet Taylor, our Director of Advance, who was responsible to coordinating the details of this elegant evening. It is the hard work and dedication of this administrative team that makes me look good. Thanks to all of you! Finally, my deepest gratitude to all of you who came out to show your continued support for the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools, and to celebrate all that makes our schools special in our hearts.
I am feeling particularly proud this evening, as I stand before you as the President of my beloved Alma Mater. I assure you: No one in this room could have been more surprised than I when I received that phone call from the Bishop. I realized there was something significant about his call when put me on speaker phone and informed me that Dr. Sam Signorino, the Director of School Personnel for the Diocese (who, until then, I had never even heard of the man), and Fr. Nick Rouch, Vicar for Education, would be in on the call. The Bishop asked me if I would consider spending my summer at Kennedy. After about ten minutes of discussing vaguely some concerns they had about Kennedy, the Bishop asked again if I would consider it. I told him, “Sure. When would I need to start?” After a few seconds of silence, he asked how soon I could move. I was in the office that Friday.
The next time I had a chance encounter with the Bishop in person, he came to me and thanked me for accepting this assignment, and then he let on that he never expected me to agree to it so quickly; that he merely asked me to consider it. He actually didn’t expect an answer from me for a few days, even a week. He was stunned that I agreed to it only ten minutes into our conversation. How could I have responded otherwise?
Some of the earliest memories I have of my childhood revolve around my experiences at Saint Joseph Grade School. The longest enduring friendships I have to this day were first forged at Saint Joseph’s. It was within the halls of our Kennedy that the seeds of my vocation to the priesthood were first planted and nurtured. The priest I asked to ceremonially vest me at my ordination mass was Fr. David Foradori, former teacher and campus minister at Kennedy. My first assignment as a priest was to Notre Dame, under the late-Monsignor Jack Hagerty, the pastor of Saint Joseph when I first entered grade school. [As an aside: I recall the first time he and I went to the school to distribute report cards and I mentioned to him how I remembered him giving me my report card at Saint Joe’s.] Even today, my closest confidents and mentors are current or former faculty members in our schools.
When I have the opportunity to celebrate weekend masses in the Valley, I look out and see the likes of Mrs. Calla (my kindergarten teacher), Mrs. Dorfi (my 4th grade teacher), Mrs. Smith (my 6th grade teacher), Mrs. Heutche (my 8th grade teacher), and so many others. I see Mr. Bill Ogg (my physical education teacher), and Coach Pete Messina (my 7th and 8th grade basketball coach who, after graduating, took me under his wing as his assistant coach; perhaps it was his mentorship that lead me to accept the head coaching position of Gannon’s ice hockey team).
In ways that no words or speech can capture, I credit my very life – my vocation to the priesthood – to our amazing school system or, better, the people who make our school system amazing. To the school who gave me so much, it is time for me to give back in my role as President.
Before a list of nominees for the Kennedy Medal was presented to me, I hoped I would see some of our extraordinary teachers on that list. Our faculty has been through a lot this past year. They painfully lost 14 of their colleagues to furlough. Many have been asked to take on extra courses and greater workloads, without additional compensation. Some were asked to take a pay cut, or were reduced to part time status. No one was awarded a raise. In my mind, perhaps it was our teachers – our most valuable asset in our school system – who suffered most in those dark months.
When I received the list of nominees, I was not disappointed. While there were several worthy recipients on the list – frankly, some are among us this evening – my conscience dictated, based on their own merits, that I present Mrs. Cicuto and Mrs. Lombardi names to the Board of Directors for approval. By honoring them, I hope we are attributing some honor on all of our teachers, by extension.
As I wrote in your programs this evening: “The possibilities for the future of the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools fill me with overwhelming excitement. While the past year has presented our school system with significant challenges, the determination and resolve of so many to assure a sustainable future for Catholic education in the Shenango Valley was infectious and served as a source of tremendous inspiration for me, personally. Many of these challenges, I am pleased to say, have been addressed and overcome. There still remains more that we can do. I not only want to see a sustainable future for our school system, I want to see it thrive.”
It seems only appropriate that this evening falls within the Church’s celebration of the Easter Season, a time when we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and the new life we have received through baptism. Among the things that sets the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools apart from our neighboring educational institutions is our privilege and our obligation, not only to talk about our Catholic Faith inside and outside of the classroom, but to put that faith into practice – to make it real, to make it concrete, and to make it a lived experience in the lives of our students.
Next month, the students at our Saint John Paul II campus will celebrate their annual May Crowning. At our Kennedy campus, I find it edifying to walk the hall to my office and see classrooms of students in the chapel praying nearly every day. It is a delight for me to preside at our school’s weekly celebration of the Mass, and invite neighboring priests to do the same.
Many of you are aware of the celebration that the Carafo Family & Foundation hosted at the Eastwood Mall for our boys’ basketball team achieving another State Championship Title. The organizer of the event invited me to say a prayer to kick off the rally. At the conclusion of the event, a mall employee working at the information desk called me over and expressed how touched and moved she was that such a secular celebration was opened with a prayer. Well, that’s how we do it at KCFS! There is not a life experience, a life event, a life occasion, that is isolated from the Gospel of Christ.
Of the many pleasant experiences of faith such as these I just mentioned, I must tell you that the greatest thing to happen – the greatest thing I can imagine ever happening – is when high school junior, Ryan Milani, came to me asking to be baptized. To my knowledge, it will be the first time in the school’s history that we will baptize one of our students during a school mass. Ryan’s mom e-mailed me the following:
“Thank you for including Ryan in the Ash Wednesday ceremony yesterday. One of my goals for enrolling Ryan in Kennedy Catholic is to entice him to explore his spirituality and spark a love of God. Ryan wants to be baptized. I’m so pleased!”
Dawn is here celebrating with us this evening and, herself, is now pursuing the saving waters of baptism. Dawn also serves as the manager of our ice hockey team. She is filled with tremendous energy, zeal, and dedication in what she does. Pat Polesnak, be on notice, you have competition! Welcome, Dawn, congratulations, and thank you.
This past week, 2010 Kennedy graduate, Ian McElrath was ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Erie. In just over a month from now, 2009 graduate Deacon Sean Kerins will be ordained a priest. Neither could be with us tonight, since they are in Baltimore completing their academic year. In his regrets about his absence this evening, Sean wrote me the following:
“As I prepare for my priestly ordination in June, my time at KC solidified my decision to enter seminary and discern a vocation to the priesthood. The motto – ‘Christo Servire’ – begged me to consider hour I could best serve Christ. If it were not for the encouraging and supportive priests, religious, and lay teachers at KC, I would not have taken the next step in serving Christ in a deeper way.”
Many in our schools endured the cross of Good Friday this past summer. Yet, as our Easter faith assures us: every cross gives way to the promise of Resurrection and new life! We can never let the shadow of the Cross dim the light of the new, and more abundant life that Christ’s Resurrection promises! There is a spirit of new life whirling within the walls of our schools; now, we need to continue to cooperate with this God-given, graced opportunity to make that spirit a real, a concrete, and a lived experience at the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools.
Tonight, I announce publicly: For the first time in Kennedy’s history, we are launching a comprehensive capital campaign that will henceforth be known as the “Come Home to Excellence” presidential campaign. It is comprehensive in that it touches every aspect of our school system: it will reestablish our endowment, fund various programs and expansions in our academics, arts, and athletics, and address significant needs in our physical plant. Donors will have the freedom to choose, if they wish, which component of the campaign they would like their funds allocated. Importantly, these funds will be housed in separate, restricted investment accounts until the principle balance is reached and the specific endeavor can be undertaken. Our goal is to raise $2.5 million by the end of the 2019 academic year to secure a sustainable future for our school system; our dream is to reach $5 million dollars so that our schools will thrive for generations to come.
Our goals and dreams are quite lofty. At times, even I am daunted by this undertaking. A campaign of this magnitude will require the generous giving from those God has blessed with lucrative resources. At the same time, I also believe a key element to achieving these goals is to take – what I have come to call – the “Bernie Sanders” approach. Is it possible to get all of those affiliated with Kennedy to pledge something? Can we get at least a little from a lot?
Though a $2.5 million campaign is an intimidating prospect, I am encouraged that one of our allocations has already been achieved. The generosity shown us on the “Day of Giving” has afforded us the ability to replace the main sign at the corner of Buhl Farm Drive and the Freeway with a duel-sided LCD display and a very classy-looking façade. We are in the process of securing the necessary permits from the City of Hermitage and hope to have the project completed in the very near future, possibly by the end of this school year.
While securing the financial future of the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools on a massive scale is, obviously, the primary reason for this campaign, I must confess to you that I also have ulterior motives. The title of the campaign is intended to evoke within long-lost alumni a desire to return home, to return to their roots, to return to their school, to the house the and family that formed them into the men and women they are today.
I really love the name of our school system: The Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools. I am happy that members of my family – my mother, Sandy, and my younger brother, Matthew – are here this evening. If I could name only one characteristic I cherish most about our family it’s this: no matter what conflict or tension may be reverberating within the family, whenever one of us is in need, rest of us drop everything we are doing, tightly circle our wagons, and offer care, encouragement, and support needed at the time.
As a child, there were many times and reasons my brothers and I threatened to run away from home. While we may have left the house for a couple hours, but we always returned home. Well, except for once instance when my older brother did run away for home for a bit longer. Frankly, for some of our alumni, they may well have valid reasons to run away from our home. In what has recently become a motto of mine: There isn’t anything I can do to change the past; but I pledge to do all that I can to change the future.
My vision for our future situates our alumni as a vital component to our schools. My vision is to return our school system and its future back into the hands of our alumni. My vision is to have our Family of Schools extend a warm welcome to each and every alum who wishes to come home.
When the Bishop called me that Wednesday evening, I honestly remember very little of what he actually said; I was distracted by what I essentially heard him saying regardless of the actual words he used: “Your Family needs you.” I responded the only way I knew how from my upbringing: I put all of my Gannon duties on hold, drove my wagon to the Valley, and offered whatever care, encouragement, and support I could muster. I want to conclude my remarks by saying the same to you: Your family needs you! Consider showing to us the same care, encouragement, and support that you offer your own families.
To all that the Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools was, to all that Kennedy Catholic is, and to all that Kennedy has yet to become, I pray in the words of the Psalmist: “May the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands. Yes, prosper the work of our hands!”
– Fr. Jason Glover, KCFS President