By Claudia Mathis
On Jan. 25, over 500 people attended the seventh annual Light the Way Dinner at the Oncenter in Syracuse. On that evening, six individuals were honored for their exemplary service to Catholic education.
Samantha VanLieshout, a tireless worker who volunteers at St. Patrick’s School in Oneida, received the Superintendent’s Service Medal. It is awarded to individuals who best exemplify the spirit of volunteerism and service on which the schools are built.
“I feel very honored,” said VanLieshout. “I love what I do. I’m lucky to be part of such a wonderful school and community.”
Rosemarie Tenney, a volunteer at Holy Family School in Norwich, was also recognized with the Superintendent’s Service Medal. She was cheered on by a group of 40 people representing her school, parish and family.
Tenney has served the school in many capacities. She said that her husband and four children have also made sacrifices to help her with school projects. “I’m very excited about receiving the award and so are my children,” she commented. Of her work as a volunteer, Tenney said, “I just do what I know to do.”
Those in attendance were entertained during the cocktail hour by pianist Kenny Talarico, a student at Rome Catholic School.
After dinner, Superintendent of Catholic Schools Christopher Mominey presented the awards.
Mominey quoted Bl. John Paul II while emphasizing the importance of the involvement of adults within Catholic schools: “Transmitting knowledge about the faith, though essential, is not sufficient. If students are to gain a genuine experience of the church, the example of teachers and others responsible for their formation is crucial: the witness of adults in the school community is a vital part of the school’s identity.”
Mominey said that the people to which he would give the awards to were indeed “very special witnesses, women who have distinguished themselves in service to the Catholic schools in our diocese.”
Sister Anna Mae Collins, CSJ, principal of Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Utica, and Sally Lisi, principal of Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville, were both recognized for their work with the Witness to Faith Award.
The award honors an educator in the diocesan schools who best exemplifies the role of teacher and educator or one who “helps to form the human person” as described in the church’s 1982 document “Lay Catholics In Schools: Witnesses to Faith.”
Sister Anna Mae felt gratified to be acknowledged for her work in shaping the minds and hearts of young people. “I feel extremely honored and appreciative of all the people who support Catholic education,” said Sister Anna Mae. “The fact that I was nominated by my faculty is a special blessing.”
Lisi was excited to receive her award. “I feel like I am accepting the award on the behalf of everyone because we’ve all been working together as representatives of the faith,” Lisi said.
Andrea Polcaro, principal at Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse, was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award. She is a 1970 graduate of Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse, a member of its first graduating class.
The award honors an alumnus of a Catholic school within the Diocese of Syracuse who has successfully used the values learned in Catholic schools to make a positive impression on the world. In addition, the recipient should be someone who has remained actively connected to Catholic education, either through alumni activities or other Catholic school activities in his or her personal life away from their alma mater.
“I’m truly honored, humbled and overwhelmed by the recognition,” commented Polcaro. “I really enjoyed the evening, sharing it with my staff and parents.”
As the evening came to a close, Danielle Cummings, emcee as well as Assistant Chancellor and Director of Communications for the Syracuse Diocese, took special pleasure in presenting this year’s Light the Way Award to Connie Berry, former editor-in-chief/general manager of The Catholic Sun.
The award is given to those who have made a memorable and lasting impact on the life of the diocese due to their work in the field of Catholic education.
“It was clear from the beginning that she would do great things for us,” stated Cummings as she referred to Berry’s start as a writer with The Catholic Sun in 1996.
“Connie’s gift was strengthening relationships and she clearly did that with our Catholic schools” said Cummings. “She partnered with them on all sorts of projects to further promote our mission of providing Catholic education in a Christ-centered environment.”
Berry said that she enjoyed covering stories from the schools. “They were always the greatest stories,” she remembered. Of her award Berry said, “I feel very honored to be recognized and it is very much appreciated.”