Gathering at an historic film production studio, “star” supporters of the Catholic Education Foundation came out in record numbers last weekend to celebrate a quarter-century of making a difference in the lives of students and their families in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

More than 800 people attended CEF’s 25th anniversary gala June 1st at The Lot in Hollywood, hosted by Archbishop José H. Gomez, Edward P. Roski, Jr. and former L.A. Mayor Richard J. Riordan. The event, which raised more than $1 million for tuition assistance for low-income students to attend local Catholic elementary and secondary schools, honored CEF founding trustees and current board of regent members, Kathleen McCarthy Kostlan and Peter W. Mullin.

As guests arrived at an outdoor entrance to the studio lot, they were serenaded with jazz music performed by band students from St. Genevieve Elementary School in Panorama City before making their way down the lane lined with film directors’ chairs emblazoned with honoree names. A hand bell group and choir from St. Matthias High School in Downey drew groups of admirers in the packed throng. Continuing the feeling of a Hollywood film premiere, an indoor sound stage projected slide shows on the surrounding walls giving a virtual tour of CEF’s past 25 years. Since its inception in 1987, CEF has granted 132,000 tuition assistance awards totaling $136 million in program funding.

Monty Hall, legendary host of the television game show, “Let’s Make A Deal,” served as the master of ceremonies for the dinner program, held on The Lot’s parking structure’s roof-top providing panoramic views of Hollywood. Video screens set up around the perimeter allowed diners to watch pre-recorded tributes of the honorees, who were presented gifts of appreciation by Archbishop Gomez.

“I cannot imagine a better way to simultaneously support the church and our entire community than becoming involved with the Catholic Education Foundation,” said honoree McCarthy Kostlan in her address. “And I marvel at its success. It’s been so wonderfully successful — best measured by the number of children that you have heard that have received scholarships.”

Recalling that CEF’s $100,000 million financial goal 25 years ago seemed challenging at the time, honoree Mullin marveled at the nonprofit’s success in granting tuition assistance awards totaling more than $136 million, including $15.38 million to nearly 13,300 students in the 2012-13 school year. He thanked the many attendees who made a “leap of faith” to support CEF. “I’m very proud to be part of that with you tonight,” said Mullin.

“We are celebrating our past tonight in a really beautiful way by looking back and honoring our founders and, at the same time, looking forward to our future,” said Archbishop Gomez. After publicly thanking the founding trustees of the Catholic Education Foundation — including Cardinal Roger Mahony, Riordan, Mullin and Richard Ferry — the archbishop noted that it was the cardinal’s idea to start CEF in 1987.

“Tonight we specially thank you, Cardinal Mahony, for your inspiration and leadership,” said Archbishop Gomez to audience applause. He added the archdiocese’s thanks to CEF’s board of trustees, board of regents, benefactors and staff, including Kathy Anderson, former executive director, “for her years of service to the Catholic Education Foundation.” Denise Martin, CEF’s new executive director, took over her position June 3. “It is truly remarkable what we have been able to do through the grace of God and your generous love,” said the archbishop, who added that behind CEF’s statistics were individual stories of “real people” who were given a chance at a new beginning.

“This is what the Catholic Education Foundation does every day in its own quiet way. This is what you do, without a lot of noise, you change lives,” said Archbishop Gomez. “We have done so much these past 25 years,” he continued, “but there is still a lot of work to be done. There are children who want an education; there are families who want a better life for their children. So, we cannot rest until every child who wants a Catholic education can have one. It’s a lot to do, but thanks to you, there’s a strong foundation to build on. Thank you for your sacrifices and commitment. Thank you for your great love which makes such a difference in the lives of our children and the life of this city.”

Following the archbishop’s speech, Thomas Barron, president of CEF’s board of trustees, made a special presentation to Robert Huston and his sister, Helen Zieman. Their late father, William Huston, served as a CEF board of trustee member from 1987 until his passing in 2011. As CEF’s second president from 1993-2000, William facilitated the largest endowment gift ever received — stock in the Watson Land Company. For the past 25 years, Watson Land Company has issued dividends to CEF amounting to over $35 million.

Alex Chacon, principal of St. Monica High School and a CEF alumnus, told the attendees that his career success would not have been possible without the support of the Catholic Education Foundation, which helped his Mexican immigrant parents with tuition assistance to keep him enrolled at Bishop Mora Salesian High School in East L.A.

“I never realized it, but a decision to keep me in a Catholic school allowed the other parts of my life to come together: a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown, a master’s degree from Loyola Marymount, the principal [position] at St. Monica,” said Chacon. “To this day, I truly believe my life would have turned out incredibly different had it not been for the CEF scholarship I received.“

As a CEF participating school, [St. Monica is] blessed to have such great supporters of Catholic education that help make the dream of a Catholic high school education a reality for our young people. Thank you, Catholic Education Foundation and our honorees this evening, for planting the seeds that will continue to provide much needed assistance to families seeking a quality Catholic education and for the tremendous support you have given and continue to give toward this most important effort.”