BY ROCHELLE SCHLORTT
The St. Patrick’s Day Gala has become an integral part of Catholic Charities, raising funds to provide direct assistance to the people we serve. From its humble beginnings in the gym at St. Mary’s High School to being held at some of the largest venues in Colorado Springs, it is known as the “fun” fundraiser in town.
The concept was born in 2001 as the agency faced economic hardships and began exploring ideas for an annual fundraiser. A St. Patrick’s Day theme was chosen, and Sue Forester and Tom Bradley led the committee during that development time, setting a foundation for success.
The first St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and Party was held on March 16, 2002, providing a traditional Irish meal of Corned Beef, Colcannon and Irish Soda Bread. Tickets were $50 and included beer and wine donated from a variety of vendors. One hundred eighty-seven people attended that first party, including Bishop Michael Sheridan and Bishop Richard Hanifen, and the event netted $3,200. The fact that it made money and people had fun convinced the founders that this was an event that could grow.
In 2003 and 2004, St. Paul’s Parish Hall hosted the party. A small auction was added, which over the years has grown to include a variety of auctions (silent, live, paddle). The St. Pat’s auction is considered one of the best in town, being voted as Best Auction in The Gazette’s “Best of the Springs” for several years. Attendance grew to 240 guests, netting almost $13,000 by 2004, and a key raffle was added, giving participants an opportunity to “win a Pot O’Gold.”
The 2005 gala brought many changes. The name was changed to the St. Patrick’s Day Gala, and it was held at a hotel for the first time. Sponsors became an integral component, with 17 sponsors that year. Freedom Financial Services (now Mortgage Solutions Financial) became the Golden Shamrock Sponsor, and they continue to be the presenting sponsor to this day. Three other sponsors were also there at the beginning: Murphy Constructors, U.S. Bank, and The Gazette. A buffet dinner included Irish Lamb Stew, Corned Beef & Cabbage, with ice cream drizzled with Crème De Menthe. While the crowd loved the ice cream, the lamb stew was not so popular, which we hear about each year as we plan the menu! The Live Auction included a trip to Ireland, and Phat Daddy and the Horn Doctors played live music as the crowd danced the night away. We had reached the big time!
The DoubleTree hosted the gala through 2009, with net revenues increasing to $145,000 in both 2008 and 2009, even with the economic difficulties of the time. A client video presentation featuring a family that has been helped by Catholic Charities was added and has become one of the most moving parts of the gala. Paddle Auction and Fund-a-Need opportunities allowed guests to contribute to specific programs or pledge large gifts. The “dessert parade,” a procession led by the chef waving the largest sparklers you’ve ever seen, followed by servers bringing in dessert, was a hit and became a staple of the gala for many years. During this time, a professional auctioneer was brought in, and One More Shot played at the gala for the first time in 2007. Over the years, the event has featured a variety of cocktail hour entertainment, from a Celtic band and Irish Dancers to the Colorado Springs Conservatory, bagpipers, and an Irish Maiden handing out golden (chocolate) coins.
In 2010, the gala moved downtown to the Antlers Hotel and remained there through 2012. The new Marian House Soup Kitchen and Hanifen Center had been completed in the summer of 2009, and this was a way to showcase the new complex with the event just two blocks away. By 2012, net revenues had increased to $195,000, and the silent auction was bursting at the seams, taking over all the space around the Grand Ballroom.
In 2013, the Gala returned to The DoubleTree Hotel and occupied two ballrooms: one for dinner, the program, and dancing, the other for the silent auction, which had grown to more than 300 items. Complimentary wine and champagne were added courtesy of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly and Cheers Liquor Mart.
Most recently, the Cheyenne Mountain Resort has hosted the event from 2016 to today. With a professional Master of Ceremonies, expanded audio/visual support, a Live Painter performance, amazing live auction items, along with the last, last bid in the Paddle Auction, the gala was deemed the best ever (as it is every year)!
In the gala’s 16-year history, almost $2 million has been raised to help the community through the work of Catholic Charities. This year, the gala celebrates Catholic Charities’ 50th anniversary of service to the community. Club St. Pat’s, a nightclub atmosphere where guests can relax and dance the night away, is an exciting new addition. The gala now consumes three ballrooms with the silent auction, dinner, and program, and Club St. Pat’s. A group of bagpipers will once again lead the crowd from the silent auction to the ballroom for dinner.
In the beginning, a few staff and volunteers were able to manage the St. Patrick’s Day dinner and party, but today — 17 years after it began — almost the entire Catholic Charities staff plus many volunteers are needed to manage this ever-growing, vibrant event. The St. Patrick’s Day Gala has always been a great evening filled with old and new friends, a focus on helping others, and lots of fun. This year, it promises to be — the best ever!
Rochelle Schlortt is the Chief Communications Officer with Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.