Friday, November 17, 2023
Jonathan Martinez - Florida Catholic
Photography: JONATHAN MARTINEZ | FC
MIAMI | The desire to support the Archdiocese of Miami’s educational programs — while celebrating its 65th anniversary — propelled nearly 900 people to attend a gala Nov. 11, 2023, that raised over $3.8 million for that purpose.
“This event will raise a lot of money, and that’s important for the educational programs of the Archdiocese of Miami,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski. “Still, this gala is also a way to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the archdiocese. That milestone is important to celebrate, to honor past accomplishments so we can look forward to the future with great hope.”
Guests dressed in formal attire were treated to an hora loca (crazy hour) with carnival-themed entertainment before the ballroom doors opened at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The legendary soul group Earth, Wind & Fire closed the evening by jazzing up the energy of those in attendance. Before the concert, attendees enjoyed a delicious meal, heard a testimonial, and watched a powerful video that conveyed the goal of the evening.
Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School in Miami, put it succinctly: “Through our Catholic schools and education programs [in parishes], we are literally saving souls,” she said. “In our Catholic schools, our children get to know God, and when they know God and his love for them, it changes their whole lives. Every other decision they make will be geared toward that love of God, and that’s the purpose of Catholic education. That’s what we want to do.”
The testimonial of David Barbier, Jr., a first-generation college graduate – Syracuse University – proved her point. He spoke about the education and faith formation he received at St. Mary Cathedral School and Msgr. Edward Pace High School and how neither would have been possible without the financial assistance his parents received from the archdiocese and its donors.
Barbier’s passion was palpable, as was his genuine desire to want to pay it forward and “leave a legacy that has made opportunities like this accessible to those who come after me.”
“The future of our Church will depend upon how we educate our young and engage them in our Catholic faith, so education is vitally important for our future,” said Jim Rigg, archdiocesan superintendent of schools and parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Coral Springs. “One thing a Catholic education equips young people with, I believe, is a sense of hope in the future. Our students graduate with a sense of wanting to give back to the world, and I often tell students that the world desperately needs them. We are in kind of a dark time, a time of turmoil, and our children (I think) are equipped to make a positive change.”
IN THE BEGINNING
From the beginning of the Diocese of Miami in 1958, the community rallied in support of the Catholic Church and its growth, a growth spearheaded by founding Bishop Coleman Carroll (1958-1977). By the time the diocese became an archdiocese — and the Metropolitan See of the Ecclesiastical Province of Miami — in 1968, the 10-year-old diocese had grown to 85 parishes and 10 missions.
Under the direction of second Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy (1977-1994), the parishes, ministries, schools and programs continued to grow significantly. By its 30th anniversary, the archdiocese had grown to more than 596,000 registered Catholics in 105 parishes and three missions, despite having lost territory – from 16 counties initially to the current three.
Third Archbishop John C. Favalora (1994-2010) shepherded the diocese into the new millennium, through challenging economic times and the sexual abuse crisis. At its 50th anniversary in 2008, the archdiocese consisted of 118 parishes and three missions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, with more than 750,000 registered Catholics.
In 2010, Archbishop Wenski — a homegrown priest fluent in in English, Spanish, and Creole, the three main languages of South Florida — took the reins. He set out to reopen churches that had closed due to financial difficulties. The archdiocese now numbers over 1.3 million Catholics, 109 parishes and missions, and 64 schools.
Those schools right now are experiencing a period of growth, welcoming more than 1,000 new students this year. Enrollment is up in nearly all Catholic schools. St. Malachy School in Tamarac re-opened this academic year, and two schools — Cristo Rey High School in North Miami and the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea High School in Key West — opened last year.
Funds raised by the gala will support that growth, provide funding for schools and religious education programs in underserved areas, assist students who need help with tuition, and help pay for upgrades in facilities and technology.
MONEY AND MORE
But while money is important, it isn’t everything.
“This gala is important because it helps us come together as Catholics and show our support for the archbishop and the mission of the archdiocese,” said Sister Margaret Ann of Archbishop Carroll High. “The Catholic Church plays a vital role in the lives of many people here in South Florida, and an event like this helps to keep the Church strong. Financial support is important, but it’s also the moral support that we are here to offer the archbishop and our priests.”
Those who attended the gala echoed that view.
“The archdiocese does such wonderful work in the community, and we wanted to be here to support it,” said Caroline OConnor, president of Business Operations for the Miami Marlins. She and her husband, Derek Borgert, are parishioners at Epiphany Church in South Miami.
“Education is important, and more awareness of the scholarship funds is vital. The access that the archdiocese provides in providing other education options is amazing,” added Oconnor. “We are so impressed with the broad student base and diversity. The archdiocese works hard to make their schools accessible to the whole community.”
“Supporting the archdiocese is supporting the Church and supporting the Church is supporting the flock. That’s why I’m here,” said Keith Koenig, chairman of City Furniture, one of the gala’s “Healing Hands” sponsors at the $100,000 level, and a parishioner at St. Gregory the Great in Plantation. “I believe God calls us to support the good works that are needed, and I’ve been blessed in my life, so we have to do his work and be a cheerful giver.”
“The Catholic Church has done a wonderful job of educating the leaders of our country and community,” said Tony Argiz, South Florida managing partner at BDO, a $50,000 “Evangelization” sponsor, and parishioner at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Coral Gables. “I can never support the Archdiocese of Miami enough. They were there for me when I came from Cuba and cared for me as a growing boy. The Church has been a central part of my life and family.”
IF YOU WANT TO HELPThose who want to help make a difference in a young person's life by supporting Catholic schools and educational programs in the Archdiocese of Miami, can donate at: https://adomdevelopment.org/galadonate.