St. Rita's Caritas - Valentine Dinner Dance - Raises Funds for Scholarships and Tuition Assistance

Veritas (Truth), Unitas (Unity) and Caritas (Love)--those are St. Rita of Cascia High School's core Augustinian Values. Thus, St. Rita's Valentine Dinner Dance is aptly named "Caritas"--the Latin term for love. Something that was overtly apparent at the 27th Annual St. Rita Valentine Dinner Dance on Saturday evening, February 13, 2016 at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood was the love that the attendees have for St. Rita High School.

Augustinian Friars (including Bishop Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A.), board members, faculty, staff alumni, parents, and friends of St. Rita all gathered together in a semi-formal celebration.

Thanks to all our sponsors and donors, including Caritas' presenting sponsor Teddy Bear Day Care (run by the Schmit Family and family Patriarch Ed Schmit '63), over 400 guests enjoyed a fun night of dining and dancing to the music of "The Connexion".


Before dinner, guests conversed and viewed 215 silent and live auction items during the cocktail hour, including many unique St. Rita pieces, sports memorabilia, getaways, sports and concert tickets, art, jewelry and more. Many auction bidders actually were able to score really great deals!

For the second year in a row, silent auction bidding was conducted online, allowing everyone to socialize more or even stay on the dance floor, without skipping a beat in the auction process--because guests were notified of a change in bidding on any item they were watching via text message on their mobile device.

Several awardees and their guests were in attendance. Two distinguished Augustinian Friars received the Crest of St. Augustine Award. Bro. Jerome Sysko, O.S.A. graduated from Blessed Agnes grammar school and St. Phillip High School. He entered the Augustinian program of formation in September 1961 at St. Monica Monastery in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Bro. Jerome has served selflessly at St. Rita in many capacities, including House Brother, Mustang Spa (dining hall) worker and Campus Minister. During his time at St. Rita, Br. Jerome was a friend and mentor to thousands of young Ritamen. He currently serves as Prior to the Augustinian community in Crown Point, Indiana--acting as caregiver for the elderly Augustinians living there.

Fr. Richard J. McGrath, O.S.A. also received the Crest of Augustine Award. Fr. McGrath is a 1964 Mendel High School graduate. He holds masters degrees in Theology, School Administration and English. He received a Doctorate of Philosophy in School Administration from Loyola University. Fr. McGrath has completed thirty years as Chief Administrator of Providence Catholic High School. He also has served two stints at St. Rita, including the positions of Athletic Director, Assistant Athletic Director, freshman football coach, English and Theology teacher.

Josh Hale, Executive Director of the Big Shoulders Fund was the 2016 recipient of the Tolle Lege Community Service Award. The Big Shoulders Fund raises $18-$20 million annually and has a $45 million endowment to support 82 Catholic Schools in Chicago. Mr. Hale serves on the Executive Committee of the School Board for the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Membership Committees of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Chicago Club, and is on the Board of Directors at the Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago.


This year's student speaker was Our Lady of the Ridge parishioner Michael Branigan '17 who shared with the crowd his amazing story of perseverance, hard work and gratitude. Michael said, "St. Rita is helping to shape me as a true Ritaman. I would like to thank everyone who has made my time and experiences at St. Rita possible, especially Big Shoulders Fund, loyal St. Rita donors, faculty and staff. I look forward to the day I can help a next-generation Ritaman."

Azteca Foods was recognized as the 2016 Corporation of the Year. Azteca Foods, Inc. started in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago as a vision of Art Velasquez '56 and nine other Mexican-American businessmen and members of the Azteca Lions Club. Azteca prides itself on offering the consumer a healthier line of tortillas while maintaining strict quality control to ensure only the freshest and highest quality products available. Although Azteca has grown to serve national and international markets, Velasquez family remains committed to Chicago and the Latino community through participation on more than ten non-profit boards, including the Big Shoulders Fund, where Mr. Velasquez is a member of the Executive Committee.

The most-anticipated moment of the night was the announcement of Greg '89 and Wendy Jania as the Couple of the Year. Greg arrived at St. Rita in the fall of 1985 from St. Turibius Parish. He was preceded as a St. Rita student by his late father Jim '64 (who also taught at St. Rita from 1968-1974) and Uncle Tim '71. Greg's brothers Geoff '89 and Chris '91 are also fellow Ritamen.

During his four years at St. Rita, Greg Jania was president of the National Honor Society, Editor of the Ritan and Valedictorian. Greg earned the Lilly Scholarship to Wabash College. Greg married the former Wendy Szymanek in 1996 at St. Albert the Great in Burbank where Fr. Walter "McNick" McNicholas, O.S.A.'44 presided. They are proud parents of Alec, 16 and Olivia, 14 in Stamford, Connecticut, where Greg is Head of Private Equity Fund Investing for APG Asset Management, based in New York. Besides Greg continuing as an active Ritaman (serving on the Caritas Committee, Golf Outing participant and sponsor, St. Rita Board Member, and Vice President of the Midwest Augustinian Board of Directors), Greg and Wendy remain active in their church and children's schools - Trinity Middle School, Trinity High School and St. Leo's Parish. 

This year's event raised approximately $300,000 for tuition assistance and scholarships for our current Ritamen. This success in a true testament to the love--or Caritas--that so many people have for St. Rita High School. 

Photo Credit: Fr. William McFarlane 

Photo Credit: Fr. William McFarlane

The dinner-dance committee, priests, brothers, lay faculty, staff, students and parents--all who make up the St. Rita Family are extremely thankful for the continued success of the Valentine Dinner Dance and the continued success of our beloved St. Rita High School!