Above: Monsignor Lewis and Anne Stahel talk with Lewis Award recipient Kim Wheeler (far left) at Catheral School in 2023.
How ‘Princeton 55’ and the Lewis Award are connected
If you’ve ever read an NC Catholics magazine (or an NC Catholic newspaper prior to 2006), you’ve likely read about a Lewis Award finalist or recipient. After all, the award has been around for 31 years.
For those wondering how it originated, it began with a monetary gift, that was given because of friendship and inspiration, that later became an endowment.
It began when a young Ed Stahel attended Princeton University and became roommates with Ralph Nader in the 1950s. Ralph would go on to be a nationally recognized author, activist and attorney. Ed became a professor at N.C. State University, and he and Ralph became lifetime friends.
Years after graduation, they both attended an alumni event where Ralph was a guest speaker. The theme of his talk was that he and his classmates had been out in the world for long enough to have skill, connections and wealth. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to take this energy and knowledge to approach problems in society? Ralph encouraged them to look beyond a band-aid approach.
They voted on this at the reunion and called the approach the Princeton 55 as they were the Class of 1955. (Today it’s called the Princeton Alumni Corps.)
Sadly, six weeks after the reunion, Ed passed away. His wife, Anne, grieved the loss of her husband.
Understandably, she was traumatized. She also carried grief from the deaths of her uncle, brother and cousin. Father Jerry Lewis offered spiritual support to her and her family. Anne said he was a good friend who “became my go-to, my strength, my help. He’s the pylon and I’m the barnacle.”
As Anne worked her way through the grieving process, she wondered how she could thank the man who had been so special, so supportive of her and had done so much for so many. He did not need material items such as a chalice or vestments and she knew that if she wrote him a check, he would give the money away.
All of a sudden, Princeton came back to her. Anne worked to find out where there was a deficit in the diocese. She wanted to find something that was not being recognized or aided.
Anne discovered that there was not really any recognition for teachers in diocesan schools other than a card at the time of an anniversary. She felt that it was a need that fit with everything that was important to her. At the same time, it would honor her late husband, a teacher at heart.
It wasn’t long before The Father Gerald Lewis Award was founded. It later became the Monsignor Gerald Lewis Award when he became a monsignor in 2000. The endowment was established in 2008 with the purpose of assuring that the Lewis Award would continue in perpetuity, to honor outstanding educators in the Diocese of Raleigh. The Lewis Award receives no funds from the diocese; and from its inception, the award has been entirely supported by private donations. Income from the endowment creates limitless opportunities to develop new ways to enrich and support the teachers and schools in the Diocese of Raleigh.
Monsignor agrees that teachers in Catholic schools need to be rewarded. He understands that they could be earning more money teaching in the public school system. However, it is through their dedication to Catholic education that they stay and work within the diocese instead. It is for this very reason that the purpose of the Lewis Award committee is to search for a specific teacher to honor each year. Monsignor explained that by honoring recipients, the committee honors all of the teachers at the schools throughout the diocese.
The Foundation of the Diocese of Raleigh manages over $65 million in assets representing more than 150 endowments and adheres to socially responsible investment guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).