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EVENTS: Franciscans push Sports Banquet & Silent Auction to Sept. 1; Manning remains man of honor

EVENTS: Franciscans push Sports Banquet & Silent Auction to Sept. 1; Manning remains man of honor

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MERIDEN — The calls went out one by one — to Jackie DiNardo out at Danbury High School, to Nathan Grube and Andy Bessette up at the Travelers in Hartford.

Oh, and, yes, to former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

”Hello, Sister Barbara Johnson here from the Franciscan Life Center in Meriden.”

Johnson and her fellow Franciscan sisters had the above guests of honor lined up for this year’s Franciscan Sports Banquet & Silent Auction. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck and, with each passing day, it was becoming clear the event’s scheduled date of June 2 at the Aqua Turf Club would not hold.

What to do? The Aqua Turf is booked well in advance. Sports celebrities like Manning have busy schedules, even in retirement.

Could a new date be found?

Riding on it was the financial health of the Franciscan Life Center and its affiliated Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care. The sports banquet, which never fails to land big names, from Tom Coughlin to Jim Calhoun to Jay Wright, is their primary fundraiser. 

With the aid, no doubt, of good prayers and good luck, the Franciscans landed the one night the Aqua Turf had available in September and October that also happened to be a night all guests of honor had open.

So save the new date: Tuesday, Sept. 1 for the 35th Annual Franciscan Sports Banquet and Silent Auction.

The Franciscan Life Center made the announcement Thursday. Consider it just three months further down the road, on the other side of summer and, hopefully, the coronavirus.

“Everything is going to be the same, absolutely,” Gretchen Rossi, the Franciscan Life Center’s Director of Public Relations, said Thursday. “Sister Barbara really did wait because she wanted to make sure that she had contacted all of the honorees to find out their availability for that day. So many of them are affected by this pandemic as well.

“Sister really lived with it and lived with it,” Rossi added. “Then, finally, at the beginning of this week, she said, ‘I really think it’s not going to work to do it in June; let’s make sure all of honorees are in place. Everybody said, ‘Yes, we’re definitely saving the date.’”

Manning, who led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles, both at the expense of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, is this year’s Saint Frances Award winner.

His counterpart, the winner of the Saint Clare Award, is DiNardo, girls basketball coach at Danbury High School and a member of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame who was also an All-American in her playing days at the University of Texas.

The Jim Calhoun Community Service Award will be shared by Grube and Bessette. Grube is the Executive Director of the Travelers Championship, the PGA Tour’s annual Connecticut stop. Bessette is Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Travelers Insurance, the golf tournament’s primary sponsor.

There are additional honorees. Rich Marazzi, an author and rules consultant for Major League Baseball, is receiving the Dean of Sports Award.

Marriage/family advocates Thomas and Donna Finn are getting the Mother Shaun Appreciation Award, named for Mother Shaun Vergauwen, who founded the Franciscan Life Center in 1974.

The father-and-son team of Al and Tony Terzi of FOX-61 return to emcee. Athletes from the Connecticut Special Olympics will be recognized.

“These fundraisers, this one in particular, is a major gift, really, to support the programs of the Life Center and the Home Care,” Rossi said. “To have lost it all together would have been quite a loss for both organizations.”