In the past three years, the Grant Initiatives for Today’s Students program has provided more than $600,000 and 93 grants for Catholic Schools.

“It was through grants to allow for innovation that our classrooms (were able) to try new things, provide for electronics, technology and robotics; and continue to make sure that our schools are strong with faith and leadership,” said Archdiocese of Milwaukee Development Director Andy Gaertner during the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Schools Dinner on Thursday, March 10. “This year, we will receive grant request proposals of $350,000. Our hope normally is to provide $200,000 in grants for these schools. We are hoping to raise another $50,000 tonight in order to do that.”

The event, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, spotlighted many of the ways the GIFTS funds have been used and serves as the biggest fundraiser for those grants.

The funds raised for the GIFTS program offer Catholic schools the opportunity to apply for grant funding to support implementing programs in one of these areas: Catholic Identity, Development/Marketing, Educational Innovation, or Project Initiation: Seed Money.

Each year, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presents the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award to a priest, educator and community member for their devotion to God and their dedicated commitment to the vitality of Catholic education in the archdiocese. This year, Archbishop Listecki presented four awards.

The award recipients were Fr. David Reith, Siena Catholic Schools President Brenda White, Joan Shafer and Mike Giffhorn.

Fr. David Reith, pastor of Good Shepherd and St. James parishes in Menomonee Falls, has served parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for the past 45 years. Ordained in 1976, Fr. Reith’s first assignment was Immaculate Conception Parish in Burlington, where he also assisted at St. Mary Grade School and Catholic Central High School. He also served as associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Milwaukee. He served as chaplain and head of the religion department at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha before serving as pastor of St. Dominic in Brookfield for 13 years. Fr. Reith also serves on the GIFTS grant award committee and is a champion of Catholic education.

Brenda White has served as president of Siena Catholic Schools since 2017. She has displayed commitment to forming and developing the Siena Catholic Schools Network of five elementary schools and St. Catherine’s High School in Racine. Since its inception five years ago, the schools in the network have shown improvement and been strengthened under White’s leadership and guidance. She has more than 30 years of experience in Catholic education and is highly respected by educators and peers. She previously served as the associate superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Since its inception, Joan Shafer has served on the board of Seton Catholic Schools and has steadfastly committed to the success of the 11 elementary schools in the Seton network. Her leadership helped navigate many difficult situations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and helped the schools succeed. As the former CEO of Seton Catholic Schools, Shafer created an advisory council to gather feedback from Seton parents and different stakeholders, developed network-wide goals, and worked to create meaningful relationships with Seton School leaders and archdiocesan leaders.

As an advocate for Catholic education, Mike Giffhorn has dedicated his time, commitment and resources to ensure the strength, development and growth of several schools in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. He has been instrumental to the formation and growth of Cristo Rey Jesuit School. He also serves on the Cristo Rey governance board as the community volunteer chair and co-chair of its $33 million capital campaign to build the high school, which opened in September. He has also served as a volunteer at Messmer Catholic Schools and Catholic Memorial High School.

Catholic Financial Life President and CEO John Borgen and Sargento Foods Director of Corporate Relations Portia Young served as co-chairs for the schools dinner.

Borgen and his wife Katie realized they are part of something much greater than themselves through their experience with their formation in Catholic education and enrolling their children in area Catholic schools.

“It was our time to step forward and lead, be generous and give for the benefit of generations current and yet to come,” Borgen said. “Today, our oldest son Elijah is in fourth grade, and our youngest sons, identical twins Abraham and Isaiah, are in first grade. It is our hope that one day, 20, 30 or 40 years from now, they will look back and say, ‘I am who I am today because mom and dad sacrificed to provide us with a Catholic education.’ We are a part of something greater than ourselves, and now it is our time, our moment to step forward and lead in service to God, our Church and our community.”