Administrators, pastors and Christ the Teacher awardees from Fort Wayne-area Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend were honored at the “You Can Lend A Hand Luncheon” at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in downtown Fort Wayne on May 16. Quality Dining, Inc. sponsors the event to pay tribute to teachers who have performed exceptionally in their chosen career field. That afternoon, nearly 30 individuals were recognized for their hard work.
“I want to be clear here that the inspiration for wanting to have this luncheon is you,” Dan Fitzpatrick, Chairman and CEO of Quality Dining, Inc. told attendees.
This luncheon, continued Fitzpatrick, is “where we celebrate the great work that our schools are doing and to recognize those special heroes, otherwise known as teachers.” He also commended the “very special vocation” of attendees, adding that they “are doing indeed the Lord’s work.”
The “You Can Lend A Hand” program was founded in 1982 by Fitzpatrick and his brother, Deacon Jim Fitzpatrick of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne. In its 40-year history, the program has raised funds of greater than $11.6 million, with approximately $120,000 raised this year alone. These funds go to aid schools, explained Fitzpatrick, and can be used for things like HVAC system repairs, computer and technology needs, carpeting or other needs in the school.
Fitzpatrick also drew attention to the small cards that dotted each table. A picture of a student from a diocesan school was printed on the front, and the back contained a short wish list that detailed items they would like for their school – one asked for playground equipment, another for a sensory-friendly room. “There are always needs, and there’s always something we can do,” said Fitzpatrick. “It is a call, I think, to help.”
Father Andrew Budzinski, Vocations Director and Pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Wayne, led the invocation for the luncheon, thanking God for the teachers and blessing everyone in attendance. Choir members from Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne performed during lunch and then the award ceremony portion began.
The Monsignor J. William Lester Award was bestowed upon the members of the Shields family. The honor is named for Monsignor Lester, who Dr. Joe Brettnacher, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, called “a great champion of Catholic education.” Monsignor Lester passed away in 2010.
The Shields family has been involved with Bishop Dwenger High School for more than three generations, providing the school with funds for such additions as the Student Activity Center, Fine Arts wing, the football stadium – aptly named Shields Field – and most importantly, the Queen of Saints Chapel. The family established three scholarships there: The Mary Magdalene, Margaret Shields and Timothy E. Shields Scholarships. They also aid in the annual Saints Alive! fundraiser.
“‘Teacher’ is a powerful word,” said Fitzpatrick, ushering in the presentation of the Christ the Teacher Awards. “We put our faith in those who answer God’s call to a vocation in Catholic education.”
One of the awardees, Nathan Cole, a science teacher from St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend, was honored posthumously after passing away suddenly last year. A video was created in his honor, recalling his kind personality and the impact he had on his students. Drawing from that video, Fitzpatrick emphasized how important teachers truly are: “You make a difference every single day, whether you realize it or not.”
Tiffany Albertson, Assistant Principal at Bishop Dwenger, was chosen as the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Administrative Recipient, an accolade named after the religious sister who founded the first Catholic school in what would become the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, a part of the Diocese of Vincennes at the time.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades addressed the audience as the keynote speaker. “I thank you for your deep commitment to Catholic education and for the beautiful contribution you all make to the mission of the Church,” he told everyone. He continued by noting how the attendees foster the development and wellbeing of the children they care for. “We’re gathered at this luncheon … for the growth and future of the children the Lord has given to us to educate,” he explained.
“With God’s grace and trusting our lives and our work to Christ the Teacher, let us move forward in the marvelous undertaking which is the formation and authentic growth of our children and young people,” said Bishop Rhoades. “May God bless all of you and all of our Catholic schools.”
One final award was presented. Every year, Quality Dining, Inc. holds a contest challenging students to create a poster with the “You Can Lend A Hand” logos, including one of Quality Dining, Inc.’s restaurant chains, which include 147 Burger King locations, 38 Chili’s and two Papa Vino’s. A Huntington Catholic School sixth-grader named Daniela Plascenia stood out among more than 300 other students who competed, and was named the 2022 “You Can Lend A Hand” Poster Winner. “You Can Lend A Hand” used Daniela’s artwork to advertise its program.
Alissa Summers, a fifth-grade teacher from St. Joseph School in Decatur, who has worked there for six years, shared what it was like for her to be named as a Christ the Teacher awardee. “I was very honored, very surprised,” she said, adding that she has “the most amazing students.”
Another fifth-grade teacher who received a Christ the Teacher Award was Katie Hoffman from St. Louis Academy in New Haven. She expressed how she felt about working at a Catholic school. “It’s everything. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but to be able to teach somewhere where I am able to share my faith is beautiful to me.”
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