On February 8th, a diverse and enthusiastic audience gathered at The Vineyards Country Club in Naples, Florida and helped the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation raise over $200,000 for one of Ukraine’s most pre-eminent institutions of higher learning. This was the Foundation’s inaugural banquet in the Gulf Coast region of South Florida. Some 150 guests took part in the program, some traveling from as far away as Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Toronto and Rochester, NY.

Natalia Santarsiero, the President of the Naples branch of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America served as the Co-Chair of the organizing Committee and Mistress of Ceremonies. Her organizing committee co-chairs were Mr. Frank Annese of Naples and Marie Shandor of Bonita Springs, and Halyna Traversa of Estero – all of whom devoted countless hours to the planning process and helped to recruit a very diverse group of attendees. They were greatly assisted by UCU Foundation’s National Events coordinator Liubov Haluha.

Ms. Santarsiero acknowledged all generous sponsors of the event, including Dr. and Mrs. Marko and Roma Gudziak, Frank Annese and Dominica Myshiw Annese, the Shandor and Kachala Family, the Orest and Lidia Bilous Family Foundation, Boris and Dr. Anna Bluj, Orest Hrycyk, Michaelene Iwanyckyj, Sonia and Eugene Jurkiw, Anisa and George Mycak, and the St. Nicholas Mission Parish of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Naples. Ms. Santarsiero was herself a generous sponsor of the event. She also acknowledged some of the area’s most generous donors that have contributed scholarships and funded naming opportunities at the Sheptytsky Library on the University’s Lviv campus. Most notable among these were Dr. and Mrs. Marko and Roma Gudziak, Olena Boyko, Dr. Michael and Lana Yarymovych , Paul Hawran, Michaelene Iwanyckyj, and Oksana Lew.

The program featured a short film that summarized some of the key successes achieved by the University students and faculty, both in the academic arena and also in the students’ many humanitarian activities providing critical support for Ukraine’s embattled cities, internally displaced refugees, wounded soldiers and traumatized civilians.

With rapt attention, the audience listened to the keynote speakers: Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak – the President and cofounder of the Ukrainian Catholic University and Clemens Sedmak, Ph.D., Director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. A particularly poignant moment took place early in the Archbishop’s address when he acknowledged a group of three wounded veterans hosted by Revived Soldiers Ukraine who had suffered lost limbs while defending their homeland against Russian invaders.

Dr. Sedmak reflected on the strong partnership that has developed between UCU and the University of Notre Dame. The Nanovic Institute has now hosted many of UCU’s finest graduate students, vice-rectors and faculty, including UCU’s new Rector Dr. Taras Dobko for extended periods of study.

Sedmak underscored UCU’s commitment to ethics and integrity, the strategic acumen of its staff, and its proven capacity for addressing Ukraine’s most pressing social problems. Archbishop Borys reflected on the fourteen members of the UCU community – students, alumni and staff that had lost their lives in service to their country over the past two years.

On February 9th, the Foundation followed the banquet with a Day of Reflection. More than 50 guests had an opportunity to gain valuable insights in an intimate setting from Archbishop Borys Gudziak on the global struggle between good and evil and the nature of truth and falsehood. Attendees also had an opportunity to share moving personal stories about their families’ plight as war refugees, freedom fighters, martyrs and survivors of Russia’s campaign of genocide and religious persecution.

During the banquet, UCU Foundation’s Chief Development Officer Alexander Kuzma announced the creation of several endowed scholarship and professorship funds that have been funded by several of the most generous donors in South Florida. Among these are Olena Boyko who funded an innovative endowment for international visiting lecturers as well as an endowed research fund for the Department of Theology in memory of her parents. Orest Hrycyk established an endowed scholarship fund in memory of his beloved wife Hania Poliwczak Hrycyk.

Perhaps most noteworthy was the announcement of the completion of an endowed associate professorship in memory of Rev. Julian and Sophia (Turczan) Koczerzuk, established by their three grandsons and their spouses: Dr. Gregory and Maura Harris, Dr. Steven Harris and Raina Wissing and Congressman Andrew and Nicole Harris. This endowment currently established in the sum of $230,000 will now be expanded through the generous support of Dr. Gregory Harris to fund a full professorship in the amount of $500,000. This will be the Harris brothers’ tribute to the memory of their beloved mother Irene Koczerzuk Harris and their grandparents, Reverend Julian and Sophia Koczerzuk.

UCU Foundation is privileged to have such a supportive and collaborative community in Florida. Additional funds were raised through a lively paddle auction led by UCU Foundation’s former President John Kurey that raised an additional $67,000.

During the banquet the audience was introduced to UCU Foundation’s new Chief Executive Officer Annetta Hewko who brings a wealth of experience as the former Director of Pepsi-Ukraine and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure. During the banquet, UCU Foundation also announced a new initiative launched by PLAST-USA, providing scholarships for UCU students that exemplify the highest standards of the PLAST Scouting Organization, especially students that either fought in the war or lost parents or siblings in combat.

For further support of the Ukrainian Catholic University, donors are encouraged to visit the Foundation’s website, or to send their donations to UCU Foundation, 2247 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL. 60622.

The UCU Foundation is planning its next major event in Philadelphia – its second “PERELAZ” or “Crossover” Folk Ball on May 11, 2024 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the beautiful grounds of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 1013 Fox Chase Road in Jenkintown, PA 19046.