The annual Mother Theodore Guerin Award, given to two administrators during the You Can Lend a Hand Luncheon each year, honors a principal on each side of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend who embodies the Christ-focused tenacity of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, administrator of the first Catholic school established in the diocese in 1846.
In lieu of public recognition at the annual January luncheon, which was canceled due to the pandemic, 2021 recipients of the Mother Theodore Guerin Award – Jennifer Veldman of Holy Family School, South Bend, and Robert Sordelet of St. Charles Borromeo School, Fort Wayne – were celebrated by their schools with decorated office doors and cards from faculty and students.
Veldman, entering her 10th year in Catholic education, is a first-time recipient of the Mother Theodore Guerin award. Being able to intertwine her faith and her role as administrator has been one of her many joys since switching from public to Catholic schools as a teacher, she said.
She began her Catholic school career with three years instructing kindergartners at Christ the King School in South Bend. Veldman transitioned to a kindergarten position at Holy Family in 2015 and also expressed interest in the work of Joseph Miller, a certified administrator who was at Holy Family at the time. Seeing precisely the path Veldman was anticipating, Miller created an assistant principal position and hired her. “It’s honestly divine intervention at its best,” Veldman marveled. “God puts the right people in your life at the exact moment they need to be.”
When Miller became the administrator at St. Adalbert School in South Bend in 2017, Veldman accepted a role as Holy Family interim principal for the six months; she is now in her fourth year as principal at Holy Family.
Some of her fondest memories and favorite experiences come from the simple joys of being a principal, she said, “any day that I can go into a classroom and read a book or be a part of their lesson. The best thing for me is to make it personal. To really get to know your students and staff is ultimately what makes the building thrive.”
“I absolutely love every moment. Through prayer and hard work and determination, you wake up the next day and are ready to take it on.”
Colleagues of Veldman commended her ability to support her students, teachers, faculty and staff while keeping Christ at the center of all they do. “She is a wonderful example of serving others with determination, compassion and courage,” praised St. Anthony de Padua School principal Karen Bogol. “We are blessed to have her as a colleague and an advocate for our Catholic school community.”
Sordelet, a second-time recipient of the award, welcomed the opportunity of receiving the honor so he could highlight the graciousness and service of the community at St. Charles Borromeo and the faithfulness of the parish community. “No matter what we need, they continually support the mission of the school.” The students he has worked with have been continual sources of joy and inspiration for him too, he said: “There’s a joy to their lives, and it’s beautiful.”
Sordelet is a legacy at St. Charles Borromeo, being part of a continued family presence at the school and parish. One of his mentors and pillars as an administrator has been Sister Genevieve Raupp, OSF, whom he had first met as a fifth grade student.
He graduated from Bishop Dwenger High School and found himself furthering his education in New Mexico on the Navajo reservation, teaching high school students during the week and playing “a lot of basketball” with residents on his weekends.
He took a position teaching English conversation in Japan for a year and returned to the Fort Wayne area to serve as a teacher at New Haven’s St. John the Baptist School. While teaching – and through his first year as principal – Sordelet finished his master’s in education at what is now Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Since his entry into administration 25 years ago, Sordelet has become an advocate for school safety, a humble mentor and a common sight for both school and parish families of St. Charles Borromeo. St. John the Baptist principal Zachary Coyle called him “tireless” and “a man for Christ.” He’s grateful, he added, for Sordelet’s mentoring and guidance.
Peer-selected from the diocesan principals for their emphasis on service and leadership, Veldman and Sordelet said they are “extremely thankful” for the recognition. Yet the first thing both recipients emphasized was that each and every one of the diocese’s administrators deserve the same honor and praise.
“Everyone deserves this award this year because everyone has worked exceptionally hard during this tiring year,” Veldman said.
Sordelet agreed. “This award could have gone to any principal this year in the diocese. We have good people who have been working so hard this year to keep their schools going.”
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