Thirty-seven years of support by Quality Dining, Inc. for Catholic schools has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of students and their families. On Jan. 31 in Fort Wayne and March 1 in South Bend, the company also thanked Catholic school teachers and administrators for their dedication and excellent work, at the annual You Can Lend a Hand luncheons.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Amy Johns and Carl Loesch, head of the Secretariat for Catholic Education, presented several prestigious awards at the event.
The Light of Learning Award recognizes one teacher from each Catholic school in the diocese. The nominees are educators who communicate well the ultimate goal of Catholic education, which is ensuring that the light of Christ is brought to every student, and that each student learns the importance of prayer, liturgy and service in their daily lives. “These educators do whatever is necessary to help children grow in the faith, develop their God-given gifts, and be formed as disciples — students who know, love and serve Christ,” Johns said.
Light of Learning recipients are chosen by their fellow faculty and staff members, school parents, their parish councils and school administrators. Each Light of Learning recipient was recognized at the school level, as well as with an invitation to the luncheon.
Also honored were recipients of the annual Msgr. J. William Lester Award: Carol Cornell, Fort Wayne, and the Fitzpatrick family of South Bend. Both Cornell and the Fitzpatricks mirrored Msgr. Lester’s lifelong passion, tenacity and unselfish enthusiasm for and dedication to local Catholic schools.
Msgr. Lester was a longtime priest in the diocese who served as superintendent of Catholic schools and was a champion of Catholic education. Bishop John M. D’Arcy said at his funeral that “no priest has done more for our diocese than Msgr. Lester,” Quality Dining CEO and Chairman of the Board Dan Fitzpatrick remarked.
Cornell began teaching religion at Bishop Dwenger High School in 1973, retiring in 2003. She still shares Church history by giving lectures for RCIA classes and teaching religious education at St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
Believing “a Catholic education is worth every dime,” Cornell and her husband, Lyle, were generous in providing scholarship funding. Since Lyle’s passing in 2000, Carol established, and she and her friend, have funded the Lyle Cornell Scholarship in his memory.
The Fitzpatrick family has been an integral part of Marian High School, Mishawaka, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and, since its inception, the You Can Lend a Hand program. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, the seven siblings attended Catholic elementary and high schools. Raised with “servant hearts,” they learned the value and importance of hard work at a very young age.
Through their careers at Quality Dining, the Fitzpatricks built upon that foundation of dedication and leadership. The company mantra is, “Love the Guest, Help Each Other.” QDI is headquartered in Mishawaka and owns and operates more than 225 restaurants, employing nearly 10,000 people in seven states. Through the You Can Lend a Hand program, they have raised almost $11 million over the years to support area Catholic schools.
Addressing the teachers and administrators present at the luncheon, Bishop Rhoades compared the joy he witnessed at the recent celebration of World Youth Day in Panama to the joy he frequently sees when he visits the schools of the diocese.
“As schools of the Gospel, joy should be a hallmark of true Christian communities,” he said, noting that this joy was also present in the early Christian communities, as evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles. Even amid persecution, early Christians continued to be “filled with joy” (Acts 13:52).
“As I mentioned, I often see this spirit of Christian joy in our Catholic schools,” he said. “That spirit is a good sign that the school is living its Catholic identity.
“Education of the mind should not be at the expense of the heart. Good teachers help students to enjoy learning and the discovery of new things. They are mindful of their students’ struggles and seek to help them. They facilitate joy and enthusiasm, not anxiety and depression. Our Catholic schools aim to foster our children’s healthy growth and development: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The education in the faith, the centrality of God and His love in our lives, is the most powerful force for healthy growth and the cultivation of the joy that is a primary characteristic of true disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Catholic schools are to be nurturing environments in which young people can grow and prosper at their own pace, balancing high standards with realistic and compassionate expectations. Can we not be A-ranked schools without sacrificing the joy of learning?” he asked. “What matters most in life is not an ‘A.’ There are other things we must value more in our Catholic schools: faith, integrity, determination, the well-being of our students, creativity, thirst for knowledge, respect, compassion, confidence, kindness, and love. With these virtues and attitudes comes joy.”
We must never put Christ or the dignity of the human person aside or in second place, the bishop said. “We don’t just ‘fit’ Christ into the program. He is the vital principle and center, the Teacher, in an authentically Catholic school. When He is, the joy of His Gospel will be evident in the community. Pope Francis says: ‘The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.’ Our Catholic schools are to be communities where this holy encounter takes place.”
The very name of the You Can Lend a Hand program focuses particularly on the values of kindness and love, by a person’s choice to help others in need, said John Firth, president of Quality Dining.
“There is so much more than needs to be done. There are so many ways people can help! If you are a painter, we need you to paint. If you can come out and volunteer at a school, please do. If you can find a way to lend a hand, we’d love to have you!”
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