“A good teacher is like a candle, consuming itself so as to light the way for others.”
As I reflect on the gift of Catholic education during this celebration of Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 30-Feb. 5th), I am immediately brought back to my own memories of Catholic school. Beginning at the age of five I entered into what has become the most significant influence in my life outside of my family. Now, 34 years since my first day of kindergarten I am mindful of the reality that I have never left the setting of a Catholic school whether as a student, a teacher or an administrator. And I consider this one of the most important accomplishments of my life.
Without question the heart and soul of this experience has been the teachers and staff members that reached out to me along the journey. Even in my current role, there is no greater impression left upon me than that of the dedication of our own Catholic school teachers across the diocese that give of themselves each and every day. This past weekend we were pleased to honor four individuals whom have made a significant impact on the life of Catholic education here in the diocese. Over 500 people from across our seven counties and beyond gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of Mike D’Avirro, Mary Ellen Salanger, Peg Brown and Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ. But during this Catholic Schools Week it is appropriate to also remember those that minister in our halls each day, on the front lines if you will, continuing to influence the lives of the young people entrusted to our care.
• Such dedication can be seen in the life of Sandy Engle of Rome Catholic School, a passionate yet unassuming educator whose creativity and sensitivity are admired by all.
• This same dedication is reflected in the life Paul Hanley of Notre Dame JSHS whose love for the Lord and whose desire to pass on the faith through his religion classes has been influencing students for decades.
• One can see this dedication in the life of Andrea Polcaro, principal of Blessed Sacrament School who has made Catholic education her life’s work, giving hours upon hours to the life of the school and creating a model Catholic school in the process.
• This dedication is seen in the work of Linda Garbade, a science teacher at St. John’s in Binghamton who takes seriously the need to integrate technology into her classroom and whose excitement for learning is contagious.
• And such dedication can be seen in the life of Father Dan Muscalino, a priest of the diocese serving at Bishop Ludden JSHS who for over two decades has influenced the lives of adolescents, modeling for them the great joys of priesthood.
A list such as this could continue on forever. This is just a very small illustration of the dedication, passion and enthusiasm that our 800 teachers, staff, religious, clergy and coaches have for the mission of Catholic education. It is their influence and their lives of service that teach the greatest lessons in our schools. It took me almost 30 years to write the following to my own second grade teacher upon being named Superintendent of Schools:
Dear Sister Francis Mary:
Summer greetings to you from a long lost student! I write today to simply say thank you for the influence that you have had on my life. Enclosed with this mailing you will see what prompted me to write this letter; an announcement from the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y.
As I reflect on the experiences that I have had and then open my eyes to where God’s Spirit has led me to today I can’t help but reach out to a few of you that were so instrumental to my vocation as a Catholic educator. I guess this letter is proof of the fact that we never truly see the results of the seeds that we planted many years ago unless someone takes the time to let us know.
I hope that you will take the time to review the items that I have sent to you so that you can see where my life has taken me over the past decades since leaving St. William’s. Even as I write this letter I can’t help but have a smile on my face as I think of the wonderful community that I was a part of back then. It is my sincerest belief that had it not been for you and for the many others that touched my heart that I would not have become the person that I am today.
It is my sincere hope that someday our wonderful educators will realize the impact they have had on the hearts and minds of the students whom they serve. They are indeed candles that light the way for others!
Mominey is superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Syracuse.