The diocesan Catholic Schools Office will host the eighth annual Light the Way Dinner Jan. 24, where eight individuals will be honored for their contributions to Catholic education in the diocese. Nominated by administrators, faculty and parents, the honorees are selected by Catholic Schools Office staff. Though they come from different regions and backgrounds, the honorees share a common dedication to Catholic education — and the humble insistence that there are many who deserve the awards more than they do.
This year’s Light the Way Award will be presented to James P. Evans, Esq. The award honors an individual or organization that “has served the Catholic schools of the diocese with distinction over a period of years.” A partner with the Syracuse law firm Hiscock & Barclay, LLP, Evans has long advised and represented Catholic schools and other educational institutions on a wide variety of issues, including student disability law, labor and employment, student discipline and regulatory compliance. Trusted by administrators and committed to Catholic education, Evans “is also community-minded and a man of deep faith and commitment to his Church,” said Msgr. George Sheehan, interim superintendent of Catholic Schools.
Evans said his commitment to Catholic education stems from his own experience in Catholic schools in his native Massena, N.Y., adding that it is only in Catholic schools that a student can “get a first-class education, but get it in the framework of the faith and within the context of the faith.”
Witness to Faith Awards will be presented to Linda Kippen and Barbara Swistak. The award is presented to a Catholic school educator who “is not simply a professional person who systematically transmits a body of knowledge in the context of a school; ‘teacher’ is to be understood as ‘educator’ — one who helps to form human persons” (as defined in the document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith).
Kippen began teaching physical education at St. Mary’s Academy in Baldwinsville and St. James School in Syracuse in 2001. She later moved to St. Mary’s full-time and also began teaching art. Kippen said she chose to work in Catholic schools because they provide a “great opportunity not only to teach but [also] to share the Gospel and reach kids in a way that means something to me personally.”
St. Mary’s Principal Renae Henderson said she has “never seen a more faith-filled person,” and noted that Kippen “always brings the kids back to the faith. All of our teachers do that, but she does it with such conviction and her faith is so genuine.”
For more than 20 years, Swistak has taught third grade at Catholic schools in the Eastern Region: Transfiguration, St. Peter’s and, currently, Rome Catholic School. She said it was her own years of Catholic education that prompted her to put children in Catholic schools and to teach in them as well. Citing Rome Catholic’s welcoming and family-centered atmosphere, the fellowship shared by staff and students and the fostering of “the spiritual side,” Swistak said “all parts are considered when you’re working together here.”
Rome Catholic Principal Patty Bliss said that as soon as she began as principal this fall, “I could tell that [Swistak] was a team player. She steps in to help all the time and she’s a very giving person.” Bliss also noted the positive relationship Swistak shares with her students in the classroom. “And students always wave to her in the hallway — she’s just that kind of person,” Bliss said.
The Superintendent’s Service Medal is awarded to “a member of the school community who has given a significant amount of service to the school in the form of volunteer hours.” This year’s award recipients are Ann and Dave Keeney, Ralph Nicholas and Dr. Jennifer Redmore.
Ann Keeney and her husband Dave began volunteering at St. Mary’s Academy when their son Brendan was in pre-K there. “We grew to love the school and the people and students in it,” Keeney said, so when Brendan, now a sophomore at CBA, graduated from the school, the couple continued to volunteer. Keeney serves on the school commission and organizes the school’s grandparents breakfast each year; she and her husband are also involved in many other activities.
Keeney also works as the school’s administrative assistant, but Principal Renae Henderson jokes that she’s “actually my assistant principal. To say that Ann and her husband go above and beyond — that’s an understatement.”
Six years ago, Ralph Nicholas began volunteering at St. Mary’s School in Cortland, where his daughter teaches and where two of his grandchildren were attending. These days, he spends four days per week assisting students in the cafeteria, cutting apples and opening milk cartons. “I have millions of little buddies there,” he said.
Principal Denise Hall said Nicholas “goes beyond helpful” and that the students love him. “He’s known as Grandpa Nick around here,” she said.
Five of Dr. Jennifer Redmore’s six children attend St. James School in Johnson City — and the sixth, now 2 years old, will join the school’s three-year-olds program in the fall. She said her own Catholic education made such a difference in her life that, “I want that for my kids, and I want that for kids not in the system yet, who will attend 50 years from now. I want to do everything I can to strengthen Catholic education and make sure it’s around for the next 50, 100 years.”
Redmore is a member of the Catholic Schools of Broome County School Board, the St. James School Advisory Board and the Catholic Education Foundation of the Southern Tier. “She is a wonderful person who has a generous heart and a deep conviction of wanting Catholic education for children,” said St. James Church pastor Father John Donovan.
The Distinguished Alumni Award honors an alum of a Catholic school within the diocese who has “successfully used the values they learned in Catholic school to make a positive impact on the world” and who has remained connected to Catholic education. This year’s recipient is Lucy Paris.
Paris is a 1973 graduate of Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse and now works as the development director at Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) in Syracuse. She said she “can’t give back enough” to the Catholic schools that enriched her and her family academically and spiritually over the years and that she is happy to be able to continue advocating for and providing Catholic education to students through her work at CAP.
Paris “has been a pillar of her church and school, and she has dedicated herself to the mission of CAP. Her faith is the center of her life, and her family knows a dedicated wife and mother,” Msgr. Sheehan said.
The Light the Way Dinner will be held Jan. 24 at the Oncenter in Syracuse. For tickets and information, call the Catholic Schools Office at (315) 470-1450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.