It was considered one of the wonders of the social world when two years ago the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society’s dinner honoring Wayne Huizenga as “man of the centennial” sold out without invitations being sent. The Ritz-Carlton even had to use the dance floor for extra tables to handle the demand.
Well, it just happened again. The Historical Society’s Friendship Luncheon did not require invitations when word spread that Monsignor Vincent Kelly would be the honoree. Last week the Lauderdale Yacht Club needed to use everything but the swimming pool to accommodate the 222 people who attended. It would have been more if room permitted.
It was a tribute to one of the most influential religious leaders in the history of South Florida. The Irish-born Kelly has been here in the Archdiocese since 1969 and built Fort Lauderdale’s oldest Catholic high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, into an institution with a national academic and athletic reputation. This is the school which produced Brian Piccolo, Chris Evert, Michael Irvin and numerous others who made it to the professional sports level. It also ranks annually among the area’s best in National Merit Scholars.
It took his longtime St. Thomas associate, retired principal Sister John Norton, several minutes just to list his additional achievements. They included being pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Coral Ridge and supervising principal of Cardinal Gibbons High School, where Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler, one of the speakers at the luncheon, went to high school. He also served until recently as vicar of education for the Archdiocese of Miami, in which capacity he made perhaps his most lasting contribution – the Archdiocesan Education Foundation, which is now part of the Catholic Community Foundation.
The endowment concept was pioneered at St. Thomas Aquinas in the early 1980s. Shortly thereafter Monsignor Kelly took it diocese-wide to serve what has become more than 70 schools in the Archdiocese, with the purpose of holding Catholic education costs down at a time when members of religious orders, once the overwhelming number of Catholic school teachers, were declining rapidly. They had to be replaced by lay teachers who required living salaries. Endowments vary widely from school to school but after almost 30 years the total fund has been reported at around $100 million.
Monsignor Kelly, known for his communication skills, was typically entertaining, thoughtful and relevant in remarks.
The luncheon was one of the first official duties of the new president of the Historical Society, Elton Sayward, who took over for Dr. Harry Moon. Sayward is chief operating officer of Gulfstream Media Group, which publishes Gold Coast and nine other magazines in a market from Broward County to the northern Treasure Coast. He and Gulfstream Media Group president Mark McCormick go back to 1988 when McCormick was a newly minted U.S. Navy ensign and served with Sayward on a guided missile frigate based in Philadelphia. Sayward joined the Navy as an enlisted man, and already had 10 years service. He retired as a commander in 2007 after 30 years. He has had a busy month. In addition to planning the Historical Society event, he is involved in the Navy League's and the Navy Days' participation in the revived Lauderdale Air Show.