Author: Carol Kovach
The Alleluia Ball 2022 lived up to its theme of “Keeping Dreams Alive” as it raised more than $1.5 million for Catholic school tuition assistance across the Diocese of Cleveland. The gala drew more than 700 people to the Hilton Cleveland Downtown hotel on March 26.
Dignitaries attending included Bishop Edward Malesic, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, Cleveland Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski and his wife Michelle, and Gov. Mike and First Lady Fran DeWine. Lorraine Dodero returned as event chair with Umberto and Maryellen Fedeli and Mike and Mary Lynn Silvestro as vice chairs. Toni Hadad was host committee chair.
Serving as emcee was Jan Jones, a longtime local TV personality and parishioner at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Chagrin Falls. Mark Schroeder, a John Carroll University alumnus and award-winning former TV sportscaster turned certified benefit auctioneer, returned as auctioneer.
The event began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Malesic. Bishop Gries and about 20 priests concelebrated the liturgy.
Homilist was Father Damian Ference, vicar for evangelization. Reflecting on the Gospel, which told the story of the prodigal son, Father Ference compared the father’s reaction to his son’s return to God’s mercy for us as sinners.
“There’s a relationship between the father and son, like we have with God. Remember who you are and whose you are,” Father Ference said. When we sin, we ask for God’s mercy. The father restored the prodigal son’s dignity. “This is how God treats sinners, those he loves,” he said, adding that others will know of God’s mercy and love through us. And when we receive this gift, it is our obligation to pass it on, he added.
After Mass, some benefactors had an opportunity to attend a private reception with the bishop and the Stefanskis before moving to the ballroom for dinner.
Patrick Grace, executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation, which presented the gala, explained that the event originally was scheduled for last October. However, it was postponed to March 26 because of the high rates of COVID-19 last fall. The date happened to be Bishop Gries’ birthday. The group also sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
Dodero thanked Bishop Malesic for his presence and support. “I am proud to call him a friend,” she added. Dodero said it is important to continue the momentum and to keep children in the Catholic schools. She also thanked the DeWines for their attendance and support and the Catholic Community Foundation for organizing the event.
Jones thanked Dodero for her work on the gala, saying that “love for Cleveland glows from you.”
Stefanski made some brief remarks, noting that he and his wife both attended Catholic schools in their native Pennsylvania and the importance of a Catholic education. Stefanski said he bonded with Bishop Malesic – also a Pennsylvania native – pointing out, “He’s the pandemic bishop and I’m the pandemic coach.”
The bishop said he was pleased to be attending his first Alleluia Ball. “Seeing everyone here, all decked out in support of such a worthy cause – Catholic tuition assistance – is beyond my imagining. Even more, we are here together with such hard-working and generous people.
He also noted the numerous Pennsylvania connections he has encountered, including the Stefanskis and singer/actor Frankie Avalon, who entertained at the event.
The event’s rescheduled date was an opportunity “to throw a grand birthday party for our beloved Bishop Roger,” he said, thanking him for his ministry. He also acknowledged the presence and support of many priests from throughout the diocese, as well as the many event sponsors and supporters and the faculty and staff from the diocesan education office and schools across the eight-county Diocese of Cleveland.
“We have 38,312 reasons to be here and to be generous tonight,” the bishop said, referring to students in elementary and high schools throughout the diocese. He also noted the generosity of Northeastern Ohioans. “When there is a need, the people of our diocese respond with your expertise, your time and your financial assistance,” he said.
“I think the theme for our gala this evening, ‘Keeping Dreams Alive,’ is so appropriate because this event changes lives. Through your profound charity, thousands of students here in Northeast Ohio receive tuition assistance. And what you do here tonight makes a huge investment in our schoolchildren that will have a tremendously positive effect on their lives. With your help, our students and their families can achieve their dreams of a Catholic education.”
He told gala attendees that their generosity is helping him in his ministry as bishop, “but most importantly, you are helping real people – young people – to have an opportunity for a brighter future. You are helping parents give that opportunity to their children. You are helping in big and lasting ways.” The Catholic schools stayed open and educated students throughout the pandemic, he said, crediting teachers, administrators and staff for being creative as they adapted and stayed faithful to their mission.
Also, the bishop noted that nationally, Catholic school enrollment increased by almost 4% from fall 2020 to fall 2021, the largest single-year increase recorded by the National Catholic Education Association and the first enrollment upswing in two decades. In the Cleveland Diocese, pre-kindergarten enrollment rose by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020. “This would not be possible without the caring and support of you and many others like you. I am most grateful for your presence and the generous gifts you give in support of our kids,” he said.
Bishop Malesic said he is continuing the work begun by his predecessor, Bishop Nelson Perez – now the Philadelphia archbishop – to develop a strategic plan aimed at strengthening elementary schools in the diocese. The Keeping the Faith initiative task force is expected to present its report this summer. The goal is to keep the schools “truly Catholic, academically excellent and as affordable as we can make them to be.” The bishop said our Church makes a difference that no one else can. “And tonight, our Church gathered together, will continue to make that difference for young lives who aspire to do great things in this life.”
Gala attendees saw a brief video focusing on one family at St. Ambrose School in Brunswick who benefit from the Fund a Dream scholarship program, launched at the 2019 Alleluia Ball. Their benefactor talked about how fulfilling it is to be able to help the family continue to send their children to Catholic schools. She credited the assistance she received while attending Catholic schools as the chief reason she is now continuing to pass on the gift of a Catholic education.
The event included a live auction for golf packages, a trip for 10 to Costa Rica and an opportunity for four people to travel to New York City to attend a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to have a private brunch with the cardinal, who was the special guest at the 2019 Alleluia Ball.
There also were other opportunities for attendees to support Catholic education and tuition assistance before entertainment by singer/songwriter Ashley Nemeh – who also sang at Mass – and Avalon. Music City Sound provided music for the evening.
For more information on supporting Catholic education in the diocese, contact the Catholic Community Foundation.