VIRGINIA — You don’t see it every day. Lip syncing priests, that is.
But just such an opportunity will be available on three upcoming evenings during Marquette Catholic School’s “Be the Light” online telethon.
The live fundraiser aims to not only “shine a light” in the darkness of the current health crisis, but also to serve as a light-hearted reprieve.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parish and school couldn’t gather in person for the annual spring gala, Marquette’s biggest fundraiser of the year, so they decided to take it online.
And — as always — found ways to have a little fun with it.
Participants can expect a “Jerry Lewis-style” telethon, complete with live local music, games and prizes and, yes, a lip sync competition among area priests.
It will be held 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and can be viewed on the Holy Spirit Catholic Church’s YouTube channel, which will be linked to the school and church Facebook pages.
There will be open phone lines for donors to call in, along with texting and online giving options.
Emcees will be the Rev. “Father Brandon” Moravitz, pastor of Holy Spirit, serving the communities of Virginia and Mountain Iron; the Rev. Michael Garry, pastor of Resurrection and St. Joseph’s Catholic churches in Eveleth and Gilbert; and the Rev. Nick Nelson, pastor of the Catholic parishes of St. Mary’s in Cook, St. Martin’s in Tower, and Holy Cross in Orr.
“As a Catholic school, Marquette receives no assistance from the state,” and relies greatly on its spring fundraiser, said Nelson, noting that Marquette is a regional school. “We will have between five to seven children from our parishes attending Marquette next year.”
Last year’s tropical-themed gala, held in the parish’s social hall, raised a whopping $140,000 — the most money garnered at a fundraiser in the school’s more-than-a-century history.
Funds helped build a new playground and parking lot at the school, were used to remodel several classrooms and pay for operating expenses.
This year’s gala, originally planned for May 1, will provide an unique opportunity, with the ability to reach more people than in the 250-person capacity social hall, Moravitz said.
The online venue could virtually reach the world, he said, with Marquette’s mission of serving the whole child — of “nurturing each child’s growth in knowledge, faith and Christian stewardship, fostering a life of holiness and virtue.”
School alumni living anywhere will be able to participate, along with Catholics and non-Catholics on the Iron Range and beyond.
Moravitz said he hopes people will share the online links and posts, inviting others to join in the much-needed “laughter and joy.”
The priests and phone operators will be live in the social hall — reminiscent of a Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day telethon. Musicians will perform from their homes, and pre-recorded testimonials from families will be shared during the three nights.
Each evening will focus on one of three causes being supported by the telethon.
Tuesday will revolve around Marquette’s new fiber optic project, which will enhance technology at the school.
Wednesday will touch on the two new vans the school is looking to buy for transportation needs, particularly as Marquette goes to a four-day school week in the fall.
Thursday will feature the school’s permanent endowment and tuition assistance funds.
Families are not turned away for the inability to meet tuition costs, Moravitz said. Marquette’s tuition of $2,850 for one child is far lower than most Catholic elementary schools in the state. The spring fundraiser, in part, also helps to keep tuition down and assists with operating costs for the year.
Money given to the school endowment fund is invested for perpetuity, with a small percentage of earnings available each year to support general activities of the school.
A number of the fundraiser’s prizes will fit with the nightly themes, such as an Amazon Echo (technology) and a deep-sea fishing adventure in Destin, Florida (travel). Other prizes include an outdoor theater system and an Aqua Lily Pad floating water mat for fun at the lake.
The grand prize is a stay in the penthouse atop the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Moravitz said he hopes the telethon creates “a sense of hope, joy and unity” amid the COVID-19 epidemic. “I hope people are laughing for days” about the promised antics.
Even seminarian Dan Hammer, who has been assisting at Holy Spirit, plans to get in on the shenanigans, performing a little rap in honor of his namesake, rapper MC Hammer.
Local musicians taking part in the telethon include, The Divas; Sharon Rowbottom and Dan Boyer; Karl Sundquist and his band, Big Waves and Bonfires; Anni Grahek; Patrick Villella Jr., and his group, The Nightshift; along with Nashville performer, Kyle Ellefson.
Organizers have set a $150,000 goal for the telethon. A fundraising thermometer to keep track of funds coming in will be updated on the event’s online page: https://event.auctria.com/c1c4facc-0a62-4e8f-97d6-105caac3ef38.
Marquette Principal Lisa Kvas said the school is greatly in need of high-speed internet services that the fiber optic project will enable. Current technology at the school, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, are “archaic,” she said.
The project will include “all new wiring and new network switches and access points,” she explained.
With seventh grade being added this fall to the pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school — and eighth grade anticipated for the following school year — updated technology is a must to support students’ electronic devices, particularity in the junior high grades, Kvas said.
Marquette is also in need of its own vehicles, including for transporting children to and from field trips. Currently the school partners with the Virginia Public Schools for bussing.
But the new school year will be a bit different, as students will attend from 7:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday and be off on Fridays.
Currently school runs from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each weekday, except for Wednesdays when the day ends early at 1:30 p.m.
Free after-school care will be offered each day until 4 p.m., and an “enhancement program” will be offered on Fridays for families who want or need it, Moravitz said.
Missionary educators with Teach for Christ, a Minnesota-based program that enlists young missionaries with teaching degrees to assist at Catholic schools, will lead the program, which will include field trips, art, music and other enhancement activities.
The four-day-per-week model will actually provide more class time each week and fewer daily transitions, Moravitz said. It also aims to provide “the gift of a longer weekend” so that “kids and teachers can be more rested.”
All parents were included in the decision, said Marquette school board member Amy Turner. As a parent herself, the collaboration with guardians “made me feel valued,” she said.
Enrolling her children in Catholic school “was the best decision we made for our kids,” she added.
Marquette parent Ben Frost, who also works in adult evangelization at Holy Spirit, agreed. Marquette families are part of one big family, he said.
And, “it takes a village to raise a family,” Turner added.
“The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’” said Garry. “A sizable portion of the students at Marquette come from outside Virginia proper, and rightly so.”
The school “has been an incredible blessing to so many families on the Iron Range,” said the priest. “Catholic education is important because it begins with the premise that every child — Catholic or not — is a child of God.”
The area is “blessed to have a Catholic school” that is “committed to quality education forming the whole of the person — spirit, body, and mind,” he said. “A mission such as this, however, comes at with a cost. It’s only made possible by the generous donations of people who believe in the mission,” and with “the support of our area as well.”
“We are most grateful for this opportunity for Catholic education for our children and see it as the responsibility of all Catholics and people of good will to support Marquette Catholic School,” fellow priest Nelson added.
“The school is such a gift,” Moravitz said. “It’s a hidden gem on the Iron Range.”
Many people sacrificed more than a century ago to establish the school, he said, adding that “100 years ago, they never would have thought we would have an online fundraiser.”
The telethon is a gift, also, he said. “It’s an opportunity to get the word out. There is a light shining here — a light for all to be a part of.”
“I’m sure it will be an event to remember,” especially since “Father Brandon is a very creative and energetic guy,” Garry said.
“Silliness and laughter soothes the soul,” Moravitz said.
“I understand there will be contests and other fun activities that may or may not bring personal humiliation,” said the priest. “But it’s for the kids and for the greater glory of God. And humiliation leads to greater humility which is the foundation of holiness.
“So more humiliation can be good for the soul.”