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Josef Day will be celebrated this Wednesday

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Courtesy Allison Bergeron
The Josef Day logo was designed in collaboration with Visual Arts Department Chair Kyle Roberts, Director of Estate and Alumni Giving Allison Bergeron, and junior Dominic Parisi. The design illustrates all the keys D’Heygers carried as a school custodian and caretaker, Bergeron said. The three keys also symbolize how he embodied honor, glory and love, the three foundational values of Mater Dei.

A new annual tradition begins on campus this Wednesday: Josef Day, which will honor Josef D’Heygers, known as the “heart of Mater Dei,” for his 54 years of service, love, generosity and respect he gave to the school.

D’Heygers’ name is inscribed on the clocktower of the school’s 400 and 700 wings, a tribute to the collective seven-figure gift, the school’s first, that he gave during his time at Mater Dei to support the school’s 2000 capital campaign and financial aid.

Students have been reading The Scarlet Scroll‘s article about D’Heygers in their religion classes in order to learn about the impact D’Heygers left on Mater Dei. Then, on Josef’s birthday, which actually falls on Wednesday, the school community will be able to enjoy sweet treats during the nutrition break outside of room 607 and 609. In honor of Josef’s love for chocolate, Mater Dei grandparents Bill and Linda Applen of Laymon Candy Company have donated 80 pounds of chocolate for the entire school community.

In anticipation of Wednesday’s celebration, four videos about D’Heygers will air during Monarch Television leading up to the event. Director of Estate and Alumni Giving Allison Bergeron, class of 1996, said that the first video which aired last Friday was lighthearted, but the next three will have a specific theme related to Mater Dei. For example, today’s video focused on how D’Heygers embodied the Mater Dei virtue of honor. On Josef Day, the culminating video will air followed by a campus-wide discussion during block four classes.

The videos featured interviews from a number of families who were close to D’Heygers. Specifically, Susie and Ned Moeller met Josef while their daughters were attending school at Mater Dei. D’Heygers would chat with the Moeller family in what was the campus’ copy center, and soon began having meals with them, as well as attending Mass on Sundays.

“He was a character, he loved to to talk and tell stories…” Ned said. “He was a very sweet, loving and faithful man. If you wanted to draw a picture of having a perfect individual, Josef would fit in that picture.”

Something that the Moeller family greatly admired about D’Heygers was his ability to appreciate the little things in life.

“On Sundays, we would go to Mass and lunch. I remember one day we were bringing him back to his apartment and we were on Edinger, and he said ‘Isn’t this street just beautiful. The palm trees and the flowers it’s just beautiful,’” Ned said. “He could see that beauty that we don’t usually acknowledge.”

Like the Moeller family, Dianna Mendoza, class of 1979, and George Mendoza, class of 1974, met D’Heygers from the copy center. After graduating, Dianna worked at the school for 10 years. During this time, she introduced D’Heygers to her husband.

“As a student… I saw Josef but didn’t know who he was or anything about him. And he was this diamond, this jewel of a person that I never took the time to say talk to or visit,” George said. “Looking back, I realized that if Dianna had not come to work here, I would’ve never gotten to know him … So we don’t know how many jewels there are walking the campus. Sometimes it just takes a little effort to reach out which can open a whole new door to that relationship.”

The idea of Josef Day sprouted two years ago after Bergeron watched the musical Hamilton. The ending song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” resonated with Bergeron and later reminded her of Josef. Then, while conducting research on universities’ legacy societies, the Badin Guild at Notre Dame, which is named after a admired priest who bequeathed the land, caused her to wonder if there was anyone at Mater Dei she could honor in this way.

“To give one of the biggest gifts in our school’s history and to be the founder of our school’s legacy [of] giving, to me that is the ultimate gift of love … agape [is] the deepest form of love,” Bergeron said. “The videos will show how he embodied that. As I go back to Hamilton, we have to tell his story, we have to be reminded and inspired by his name. It’s not just a name on a building, it’s a person who lived, who loved and who gave.”

A legacy society is a group of donors who have created an endowment fund or left a charity of their choice included in their estate plans. According to Bergeron, individuals in the legacy societies arguably show a true testament to how they feel about an organization through this grand gift.

“I started thinking about Josef and it’s been nine years since he passed. We have new teachers, new faculty, new staff and generations of nine years of students who don’t know who he was. This bothered me,” Bergeron said. “So in the fall, I wrote a proposal to Mr. Murphy [that] included that we rename to the Legacy Society to Josef’s Legacy Guild and that the entire school know who he was and celebrate him on his birthday.”

Shortly after submitting the proposal, Bergeron formed a committee last December with individuals from the religious studies department, Director of Campus Ministry Helen Steves, Director of Christian Service Stephanie Hopkins, Director of Monarch Television Andrew Roberts, Director of Alumni Giving and Relations Kathleen Kelly, class of 1994, Coordinator of Estate and Alumni Giving Whitney Pavlik, class of 2003, VP of Advancement Erica Adams, and Visual Arts jDepartment Chair Kyle Roberts. In doing so, Bergeron created a cross-section of members who could contribute to their ideas and talents to making D’Heygers’ spirit come alive through Josef Day and the videos, class discussions and other festivities celebrating his legacy.

“The wisdom of those in the classroom, particularly Mrs. Dennin, and Mr. Roberts who understand how the classes pair together and the students’ attention spans helped a lot,” Bergeron said. “This is the reason why we’re doing a multi-day lead-in because if we just showed one video on his birthday, people would say ‘oh, that’s nice,’ but we want to engage students, faculty and staff. I really wanted everybody to take a moment each day leading up to the event to embrace this individual.”

Beyond the school community, Mater Dei families can join students to watch the videos via social media. In addition, students, alumni, lifetime parents or anyone connected to Mater Dei can share their untold stories about D’Heygers by clicking here.

I think that when all is said and done people are going to have a deeper appreciation for the name on the clock, and who the man was,” Bergeron said. “As I’ve been going through this whole process, it reminds me to be humble, to be content and celebrate the beauty in the most simplistic [and] mundane things that Josef thought were pretty amazing.”

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Josef Day will be celebrated this Wednesday