Teachers begin school year in prayer

About 750 Catholic elementary school teachers attended a liturgy at St. Gabriel Church Aug. 8 to mark the beginning of a new school year. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

About 750 Catholic elementary school teachers attended a liturgy at St. Gabriel Church Aug. 8 to mark the beginning of a new school year. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

About 750 Catholic educators filled St. Gabriel Church in Fern Creek Aug. 8 to begin the new school year with prayer.

Representatives of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 37 Catholic elementary schools attended the annual liturgy, celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. It was followed by a picnic and an awards eremony, in which Catholic Education Foundation Teacher Awards, funded by the Dan Ulmer family, were presented to 32 teachers.

The theme of this year’s gathering was “Disciples Called to Witness.”

Archbishop Kurtz asked the teachers to be good witnesses to the faith and good educators, first, by simply being themselves.

He noted that in April of 1972, one month after his ordination, he was assigned to be a part-time high school teacher, entering the classroom near the end of the school year.

“That is not a recipe for success,” he said, as the teachers listening to his story offered him sympathetic laughs. “It was a disaster.”

The archbishop said he lacked confidence and thought he would never be a success at teaching until his mentor gave him simple advice: “ ‘Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, and let the grace of Christ flow through you.’ ”

Archbishop Kurtz urged his listeners to give themselves completely to their vocation, embracing a “sacrificial love” for their students.

“Our schools will be great and vibrant precisely because you have been given that gift of giving yourself totally to others,” he said.

The archbishop also discussed the role of the family in Catholic education in light of the Vatican synod on the family set for this fall.

“The students who come into our classrooms bring both the challenges and the gifts of their families,” he said. “This year, let’s not forget the beauty and joy they bring to the classroom.”

He noted that his family “contributed mightily to my education” in ways that enhanced his school life.

Holding a well-worn hardback book as he delivered his homily, the archbishop explained, “This book was given to me on Christmas of 1958. You do the math. I was then in seventh grade.”

St. Dominic and the Rosary was a gift from the archbishop’s older sister, Rose, he explained. The gift would prove to be “transformational” in his life and an integral part of his then-budding vocation.

After the liturgy, representatives of the Catholic Education Foundation and Dan Ulmer, addressed the educators and presented the teacher awards.

Rich Lechleiter, the president of the Catholic Education Foundation, thanked the teachers for their service and pledged the CEF’s support for their work.

“We are going to grow as a foundation to support what you do,” he told the teachers.

The Catholic Education Foundation Teacher Awards were presented this year to 32 elementary school teachers. The awards are available annually to one teacher in each of the archdiocese’s 47 Catholic elementary and secondary schools. This year, five of the elementary schools did not submit nominations.

Award recipients must have at least five years of experience in Catholic schools, they must be certified and demonstrate a positive influence on their students. The Ulmer family established the awards in 2004 and so far more than 230 educators have received the honor.

Dan Ulmer told the teachers at the Aug. 8 gathering, “It’s a great pleasure for our family to do that year after year.”

Recipients receive $1,000 and a work of art. This year’s recipients and their schools are:

Ann Smith, Ascension School; Khaki Strebel, Holy Spirit School; Angela Muller, Holy Trinity School; Naomi Sipe,  John Paul II Academy; Daivie Kay, Notre Dame Academy; Morgan Wissing, Our Lady of Lourdes School; Cathie Astorino, Sacred Heart Model School; Debbie Abbott, St. Albert the Great School;

Gina Hays, St. Aloysius School, Pewee Valley, Ky.; Lisa Murray, St. Andrew Academy; Melinda Cecil, St. Athanasius School; Charlotte Colyer, St. Bernard School; Bernadette Porter, St. Dominic School; Heather Culton, St. Edward School;

Paula Do, St. Francis of Assisi School; Becky Romero, St. Gabriel School; Jo Ellen Smith, St. Gregory School, Samuels, Ky.; Sharon Hernandez, St. James School, Elizabethtown, Ky.; Janice Straw, St. James School, Louisville; Katrina Ballard, St. Joseph School, Bardstown, Ky.; Nicole Hubbs, St. Leonard School;

Christine Bowles, St. Margaret Mary School; Taffie Duckworth, St. Martha School; Carrie McGreevy, St. Mary Academy; Anna Maria Goss, St. Michael School; Julie Lynn Maschino, St. Nicholas Academy; Shannon Pritchett, St. Patrick School; Nancy Lambert, St. Paul School; Suzanne Penezic, St. Raphael School; Victoria Graham, St. Rita School and Martha Hartman, St. Stephen Martyr School.

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