Diocese names Mark Csanda its 2015-16 Distinguished Principal

Mark Csanda leads the students of St. Mary School in Bloomington through a rousing chorus of "Elijah," complete with movements, at a recent school assembly.

BLOOMINGTON — Each morning the students at St. Mary School gather in the gym to pray for and with each other, sing songs, hear announcements and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge doesn’t end with “liberty and justice for all,” however.

Students and faculty seamlessly add the words, “I promise today to love, live, learn and serve as Christ taught us.”

It is an abbreviated version of the school’s mission statement, crafted six years ago at the end of Mark Csanda’s first year as principal. He said if people remember him for anything, he hopes that’s it.

Last week, the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Peoria provided another reason Csanda will be remembered when he was named the 2015-16 recipient of the Distinguished Principal Award.

Joining him at a celebration planned for the end of the school year will be Father Stephen Willard, pastor of St. Patrick in Washington and St. Monica in East Peoria, who was designated the “Distinguished Pastor,” and Lynn VanDeHeede, a counselor at Alleman High School in Rock Island, who was selected as the “Distinguished Teacher” by the schools office. They will be featured in a future issue of The Catholic Post.

“The criteria for selection include articulating a clear philosophy of Catholic education and providing effective faith-filled leadership in ways that inspire teachers and others to achieve and contribute to the school environment,” Dr. Sharon Weiss wrote in her letter of congratulations. “Certainly you exemplify what leadership is all about in our Catholic schools.”

She cited Csanda’s “passion and devotion to Christ and his church through service to him in an environment dedicated to learning and in care of his children, teachers, staff and families.”

“I am truly, truly honored,” Csanda told The Catholic Post after the school assembly on Dec. 14. “I haven’t been here as long as some of my colleagues, I haven’t been in Catholic education as long as some of my colleagues, but if leadership is what distinguishes me I’m proud of that.”

He said he would accept the award on behalf of all the other Catholic school principals in the Diocese of Peoria who also have distinguished themselves.

PLACE OF JOY
While Csanda is happy if people choose to honor him for his leadership ability, he is quick to note that he considers himself a faith leader first and foremost.

Born and raised in Chicago, he was a teacher, administrator and coach in public schools in central Illinois and Ohio before accepting an offer from Msgr. Jerry Ward to do youth ministry at St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington. It was to be a “renaissance” in his career.

“My faith grew. It was a stepping stone to this,” he said. “I was sharing my faith openly — youth ministry will do that.”

It was also during this time that he and a group of friends formed ReZound, a “house band” for the youth ministry at St. Patrick Church of Merna. The group continues to play contemporary Christian music, mostly for events involving youth.

“This is a perfect fit for me,” Csanda told The Post. “I get to be all those things — teacher, coach, playing his music. It’s all the things I love.”

He said any successful Catholic school principal must have two things and he’s got them both. The first is a staff filled with amazing teachers and the second is a supportive pastor like Father Ric Schneider, OFM.

“He’s a former educator. He gets it,” Csanda said. “He says the school is the charism of our parish — it gives us an opportunity to serve.”

He praised the teachers not only for their skill as educators, but also for the way they give of themselves and share their faith.

In addition, Csanda credits the support of Carol, his wife of 37 years. They have a daughter, Abigail, who just got married.

In the end, he tries each day to do what Father Ric told him when he took the job seven years ago.

“He talked about how schools should be a place of joy,” Csanda said. “That was really our motivation, our impetus to be the school we are today.”

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