On March 21, a total of 20 teachers from South Bend-area Catholic schools were honored as Christ the Teacher awardees at the “You Can Lend a Hand” luncheon at the Century Center in South Bend. Teachers, pastors and administrators from the local area came together for the first time in two years to pay tribute to the good work of these humble servants of Christ and the positive influence they have on the children they give so much of themselves to educate. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades gave the day’s keynote address.
Father John Delaney, Pastor of St. Jude Church and School in South Bend gave the invocation prior to the luncheon. Dan Fitzpatrick, Chairman and CEO of Quality Dining, Inc., thanked the members of his team, the bishop and the Catholic Schools Office for their assistance, and spoke briefly about the ways that the “You Can Lend a Hand” program has helped educate students in Catholic schools for 40 years. He announced the award winners, while Dr. Joe Brettnacher, Superintendent of Catholic Schools and David Maugel, Associate Superintendent, presented the Christ the Teacher icons. Mayors of South Bend and Mishawaka also attended the luncheon.
The heart of the event was an emotional video created in memory of an awardee, Nathan Cole, who unexpectedly passed away more than a year ago at 43 years old. Cole had taught at St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend and moderated the school’s Lego Robotics Club. He left behind a wife and young daughter. His wife, Sarah, attended the ceremony and accepted the award on his behalf.
Cole was chosen to receive the Christ the Teacher award, “in honor of him and all he gave both in the classroom and with the Lego Robotics Club,” said current St. Joseph principal Melissa Green.
Though he passed away last year, Green stated that “it was really the current teachers who came up with the idea to give Nathan this award.” Green began her tenure as principal this year, but recalled how Cole had taught her own daughter and she had worked alongside him as a teacher.
In the video, some of Cole’s former students, who are now in high school, eagerly returned to their grade school to pay tribute to the teacher who had such a deep influence on their lives. Green described it as “very cathartic” for the teachers and staff of St. Joseph, and stated that the passage of time had allowed the school community to process their loss. The video helped them both honor his memory and to grieve for him. In his 16 years at St. Joseph, Cole left a legacy that was remembered by his fellow teachers, students and families.
Additional awardees included Peggy Shea as the Monsignor J. William Lester Award. Shea has been instrumental in promoting Catholic education at Marian High School for more than five decades.
Monsignor Lester was a bulwark of the diocese for many, many years, and had a passion for education, particularly Catholic education. He served as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for a time and recognized the need for four Catholic high schools, two on both ends of the diocese. Much of his time was spent encouraging Catholic athletes on the field. He also supported bringing 26 Cuban boys to Fort Wayne as a part of the Pedro Pan Project, intending to safeguard them from the influence of communist leader Fidel Castro.
According to Dr. Brettnacher, “We proudly award the Msgr. J. William Lester Award to an individual, or a couple, who has demonstrated their unfailing support and dedication to Catholic education in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.”
Shea certainly fit that bill. She and her late husband, Jim, Sr., put five children through Marian High School, and four of her grandchildren are now alumni of the school as well. Additionally, Shea has been involved in local parishes over the years, including St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, Queen of Peace in Mishawaka and St. Pius X in Granger.
“Her reach has been very widespread,” said Alicia Redinger, Mission Advancement Director for Marian High School. She described Shea as a “champion for Catholic schools.”
Joining her to show their support and appreciation were two of her sons and additional family members.
The Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Administrative Recipient was Karen Salvador, Mishawaka Catholic School – St. Monica Campus principal.
One of the awardees, Allison Jeter, the third-grade teacher at St. Adalbert School in South Bend, said of winning the Christ the Teacher award: “I’m really excited about it, very humbled. I didn’t expect or anticipate to even get nominated.”
Jeter is in her third year of teaching at the Catholic school and did her student teaching there years ago. She has been a teacher for seven years overall. “I love it. It’s a very strong community,” she remarked.
As most teachers, particularly those who pursue a vocation in the Catholic school system, she doesn’t do her job for any reward, but rather, “I teach because I love kids and love working with them, and I have been able to throw my heart and soul into it and have great support of family and colleagues and friends. So, it was just being rewarded for doing a thing that comes natural and that I just love to do.”
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