Fr. DeSutter’s school support recognized by diocesan award
Photo Caption: Father Mark DeSutter, pictured with Mike Birdoes, says Catholic schools are “not just about education. It’s about bringing people to Christ.”
By: By Jennifer Willems
Father Mark DeSutter said he was surprised when he learned that he had been named the Diocese of Peoria’s Distinguished Pastor for 2013-14 by the Office of Catholic Schools.
“Mike must have done a good sales job,” he said with a smile, referring to Mike Birdoes, principal of Blessed Sacrament School in Morton. Father DeSutter served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament for 14 years before moving to Sacred Heart in Moline earlier this month.
No sales job was needed, according to Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools.
“Father DeSutter embodies the passion and commitment that you would like to see in a Catholic school pastor,” she told The Catholic Post. “He cares about the children, he cares about the families, and he’s one of those loyal soldiers who stays in the field and helps them, no matter what.”
Birdoes was the principal during Father DeSutter’s first year as pastor and then went to St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria for nine years. When he returned to Blessed Sacrament in 2010 he noticed a definite change in the spirit of the parish and school.
“He brought people together,” Birdoes told the principals and pastors gathered for the recent End of Year Mass and Luncheon. “You walk in any night, Monday through Thursday, and there’s anywhere from three to seven different activities going on in the parish and school, and that’s all Father Mark.”
Blessed Sacrament School was at a crossroads when Father DeSutter arrived in 2000.
Built in 1958, the school was small and had a number of issues, he said, noting that the science lab and music room were essentially on rolling carts. There was no pre-school and only a half-day kindergarten.
“We were at a turning point and the turning point was are we going to do this right or are we going to do this halfway,” Father DeSutter said. “We decided as a church community that we needed to invest in the school and show the community that we were in this for the long haul.”
That was vital if Blessed Sacrament was going to do what Catholic schools are supposed to do — be a tool of evangelization, he said.
“It’s not just about educating children. It’s about bringing people to Christ,” Father DeSutter explained. “Our school, I think, has done that.”
As the result of parish-wide strategic planning in 2001, the school was expanded and a new parish center was built between the church and the school. A renovation of the church followed in 2009.
“If the school is healthy the parish is going to be healthy. If the parish is healthy, the school’s going to be healthy,” Father DeSutter told The Post. “Both need to be healthy and vibrant.”
He is quick to point out that he has worked with many talented people at Blessed Sacrament, including the staff, teachers and “three great principals.” In addition to Birdoes, the school has been led by Jim Runyon and Jim Eckhart.
“Each one brought their talents to the table and the many gifts they had. They really did tremendous work,” Father DeSutter said. “I think I was able to partner with all of them and that was very, very important.”
He also partnered with the parents, working to remove whatever stood in the way of their children receiving a Catholic school education.
In the end, perhaps his greatest collaboration has been with the Holy Spirit.
“What I’ve told people is I just need to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit and things will work,” he said. “I stood out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work and wonderful things have happened.”
Ordained on May 29, 1982, Father DeSutter was part of the Rock Island-Milan Cooperative, working as parochial vicar at St. Pius X, Rock Island. He also was parochial vicar at Holy Trinity in Bloomington for three years.
Father DeSutter was involved in campus ministry at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois from 1988 until 1993, when he was named chaplain at St. Francis of Assisi Newman Center at Western Illinois University, Macomb. He remained there until he started his long pastorate at Blessed Sacrament.