Mission and History

Putting Catholic education within reach for students most in need.

The Catholic Education Foundation transforms the lives of at-risk students with opportunities for an exceptional K-12 Catholic education where academic rigor, faith and social support are prioritized.

We believe that all families who seek high-quality, faith-based K-12 education should be able to access it, regardless of their financial situation. Our scholarship programs provide tuition-assistance scholarships to help Catholic schools throughout northeast Kansas welcome students of all backgrounds into their safe, caring, learning environments, where students can develop a love of Christ and thrive.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, CEF provided a record-breaking $4.6 million in scholarships for the 2023-24 school year, giving more than 1,800 students the opportunity to receive high-quality, faith-focused education.

Learn more about our work

Supporting Students since 1997
Thanks to the leadership of our founders, the Catholic Education Foundation has led the way for thousands of students of all backgrounds to experience the rigorous academics, faith formation and community support that Catholic schools deliver.

The impact from the past 25 years is astounding:

$33 million in scholarship awards
24,000 scholarships for students in need
support for Catholic schools throughout northeast Kansas

We hold steadfast to the vision of our founders and invite you to join us at Gaudeamus, our signature fundraising event, as we celebrate the truth beauty and goodness of Catholic education.

A Mission to Bring Equity to Opportunity

In 1997, the Catholic Education Foundation was established to support Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Formerly known as the Gardner Institute, CEF was started with seed money from a small trust established by Rev. Monsignor Henry Gardner, the first superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese. Sr. Vickie Perkins, SCL, served as an early Executive Director of the Gardner Institute.

"The Archbishop came to me after I made a remark at St. Thomas Aquinas HighSchool," says Tom Zarda, "about the concern that I had about the Catholic education system only being made available for the affluent."

In 2004, at the request of Archbishop James P. Keleher, Zarda and Rich Henry met with Blake Mulvany, the superintendent of Catholic schools, and Sr. Vickie Perkins to discuss ways to help schools meet their financial needs.

Together, they developed a network of committed supporters and set out to change the status quo and make Catholic education accessible to all families, regardless of their financial means.

Tom Zarda and Rich Henry served as early board members, along with Rick Wiseman, John Menghini Sr., Mark Ledom, and Nelson Newcomer.

Through the generosity of donors and the great performance of our Catholic schools, the Catholic Education Foundation grew.‍

In 2007, CEF shifted its model to focus entirely on scholarships for low-income students.

"One of Blake's objectives was to help the schools sustain themselves," says Rich Henry, "and without the students and the revenue that comes from tuition, that wasn't going to happen."

Since 2007, the Catholic Education Foundation has awarded more than 24,000 scholarships for students in need, many living at or below the poverty level. The support from CEF helped stabilize and strengthen enrollment growth at K-12 Catholic schools, especially those in urban and rural communities.

Today, the Catholic Education Foundation continues to uphold the vision of our founders. CEF scholarships lead the way for students of all faiths, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds to receive a high-quality, faith-focused education.