Chatti Gras puts the fun in fundraiser

Bill Brewer News, Parishes, Schools

Bishop Richard F. Stika and Sisters Mary Marta Abbott, Mary Evelyn Potts, Margaret Mary Sallwasser, Mary Herman Horn, Mary Celeste D'Souza take part in Chatti Gras, an annual fundraiser to benefit Catholic schools in Chattanooga.

Bishop Richard F. Stika and Sisters Mary Marta Abbott, Mary Evelyn Potts, Margaret Mary Sallwasser, Mary Herman Horn, Mary Celeste D’Souza take part in Chatti Gras, an annual fundraiser to benefit Catholic schools in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga Deanery’s three schools—Notre Dame, St. Jude and Our Lady of Perpetual Help—joined forces for the second consecutive year to throw a Mardi Gras celebration and fundraiser for tuition assistance programs.

Chatti Gras attracted more than 800 guests, who spent an evening at the Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center enjoying live music, dinner, dancing, a silent auction and casino games to benefit the Feb. 9 fundraiser.

Bishop Richard F. Stika opened the fundraising festivities with prayer and remarks about the important role Catholic schools play in the Diocese of Knoxville.

Bishop Stika thanked the Chatti Gras guests for their support of Catholic schools, calling Catholic education “a joy, a gift” that is “precious.” He noted that Catholic education has come a long way since schools were staffed primarily by priests and sisters who helped keep costs low. But costs have risen as Catholic education has expanded and supporters are vital to furthering the mission of Catholic education.

Chatti Gras was launched last year as a way for Chattanooga’s Catholic schools to “work smarter instead of working harder” to raise funds for school programs and activities.

After several years of discussions, the three schools decided to give up their spring dinners, dances and auctions in favor of one large event for the community.

The effort, involving hundreds of volunteers, coincides with Mardi Gras to mark the Lenten season.

Kathleen Etherton, director of development and clinic manager at St. Jude School, said the 2013 Chatti Gras drew 833 supporters who filled 104 tables. The event also attracted 54 sponsors, with Memorial Health Care System, East Tennessee’s only Catholic hospital and located in Chattanooga, was the presenting sponsor.

Mrs. Etherton said Chatti Gras organizers are working to improve on each year’s event and anticipate collecting more than the $40,000 raised in February 2012.

She said the proceeds are shared equally by St. Jude, OLPH, Notre Dame and the Chattanooga Deanery Tuition Operating Fund.

“Overall, we were extremely pleased and happy with the turnout for Chatti Gras 2013. I believe everyone had a great time. The site was well situated, the food delicious and the band so much fun. We had a crowd all night at the auction and casino tables,” Mrs. Etherton said.

“We believe one of the biggest benefits of Chatti Gras is not only the fact that we raise money but that we have created a special event for our community. We have succeeded in bringing people from across our deanery together for a night of fun and fellowship. We attract our school families, long-time parishioners and young alums. There is something for everyone and everyone enjoys being together,” she added.

Mrs. Etherton has said the schools’ our unique approach to holding a traditional school fundraiser has succeeded not only in raising funds but also in creating a large Chattanooga Catholic event that is developing a reputation of tradition and success.

Chatti Gras organizers already are working on the 2014 fundraiser, which again will mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

Mrs. Etherton calls Chatti Gras a signature event for the Catholic community that is creating a new Chattanooga tradition. Attendees include alumni, parents, parishioners, grandparents, Knights of Columbus councils, faculty and staff.

Some $1.3 million was given in tuition assistance by the Chattanooga Deanery Operating Fund in 2011, benefiting about 170 families. Mrs. Etherton said St. Jude and OLPH dedicate millions of dollars above their tuition income to Catholic parochial education, with all parishes in the Chattanooga Deanery contributing to the operating fund.