National education award for St. Mary’s, Bloomington, pastor

Photo Caption: Father Ric Schneider, OFM, is one of 10 recipients of the Distinguished Pastor Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. Brother Richard Bimonte, NCEA executive director, looks on.

By: By Jennifer Willems

BLOOMINGTON — “He is the pastor every principal longs for” is how Mark Csanda, principal of St. Mary’s School here, describes Father Ric Schneider, OFM. He goes on to say that his pastor is “supportive, inspirational and empowering.”

Father Ric brushes the praise aside: “It’s what you do when you’re a pastor. You just take what happens every day, do some vision planning and make it happen.”

With all due respect to Father Ric, the National Catholic Educational Association agrees with Csanda.

At the association’s recent gathering in Boston, Father Ric was one of 10 pastors from around the country to receive the NCEA’s Distinguished Pastor Award. He is the first priest in the Diocese of Peoria to be recognized this way.

The community at St. Mary’s, which he has served as pastor for 19 years, will show their appreciation at an all-school assembly and reception this Friday, April 27, at 8 a.m. In addition to school families and parishioners, area pastors have been invited to come and congratulate Father Ric.

“He is a teacher at heart. He knows and understands schools from the inside out,” Csanda said in nominating Father Ric for the award.

“He has served in the classroom, as dean of students, and in vocation formation. This wealth of experience, along with his wisdom and collaborative approach, has equipped him with the skills and understanding necessary to lead, inspire, motivate and support Catholic schools,” the principal added.

“His door is always open for visitors, his mind is always open for discussion, his ears are always open for listening, his hands are always open for service, and his heart is always open for everyone.”

Father Ric puts it more simply, saying the most important thing he can do is form community. When that happens everyone is proud of what they’re doing and proud of the school and will work hard to “make it all happen.”

He starts by falling in love.

“In my first homily I always say, ‘One of the biggest jobs I’ve got in this community is to fall in love with all of you and hopefully have you fall in love with me and then we can serve God together in love,'” he told The Catholic Post.

In addition to celebrating with Father Ric at the Boston convention, educators from the Diocese of Peoria were able to give back to their peers as well as receive.

Brother William Dygert, CSC, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, presented a session detailing the process of searching for individuals to serve on jurisdictional boards of trustees and parish school boards, while Jerry Sanderson, associate superintendent of schools, and Rose Costello, principal of Holy Cross School in Champaign, collaborated to offer guiding principles and strategies for effective Christian service-learning programs in Catholic schools.

Gwendolyn Roche, principal at St. Thomas School in Philo, and two of her teachers, Debbie Reinhart and Robin Rentschler, talked about the benefits of multi-age education and how to implement this kind of program.

Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, teacher and drama director at St. Bede Academy in Peru, shared techniques to inspire student writers.

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