Awards bestowed as Mass, luncheon with principals closes school year in diocese

Among those recognized by the Office of Catholic Schools at its year-end Mass and luncheon with principals were, from left: Krista Hinkley of The High School of Saint Thomas More, Distinguished Teacher; Anita Kobilsek of Holy Cross School in Mendota, Distinguished Principal; Father William Miller of Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg, Distinguished Pastor, and Sally Martin of St. Mary School in Kickapoo, Distinguished Teacher. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Encouraging the principals of Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria to savor every moment of their summer vacation, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, said he looked forward to seeing them rested and “all charged up” in the fall.

At the Mass marking the end of the school year, which was held in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel of the Spalding Renewal Center in Peoria, he also reassured them they are never alone.

Mike Birdoes, principal of Blessed Sacrament School in Morton, is recognized by Bishop Jenky for 25 years of service in Catholic education. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“We are to be the Lord’s witnesses. We are to preach his word. We are to witness to what he gave us. We don’t do this of ourselves,” Bishop Jenky told the principals, along with the pastors and parochial vicars who came with them. “We do it depending entirely on him.”

As principle disciples of the Lord, they are called to make Christ present to their students, faculty and staff, and school families, he said. They don’t have to be perfect, as long as they keep trying to be an icon of the One who is.

“It is the Lord who works through you, and in the end, Christ always wins,” Bishop Jenky said.

He joined the school administrators and clergy for the luncheon that followed in the Spalding Pastoral Center, presenting tokens of appreciation, words of gratitude, and handshakes to those marking milestones of service.


During the celebration, the Office of Catholic Schools honored Father William Miller of Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg as its Distinguished Pastor, and Anita Kobilsek of Holy Cross School in Mendota as its Distinguished Principal. Recognized as Distinguished Teachers were Krista Hinkley of The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign and Sally Martin of St. Mary School in Kickapoo.

“I’ve had many opportunities to witness the excitement of the children when Father Miller comes into our building,” said Jackie Nieukirk, principal at Costa Catholic Academy. “The children of our school simply can’t contain their excitement. When they see him, it’s like all school rules are thrown out the window.”

In talking about his aunt, Anita Kobilsek, Father Jacob Rose said that in her 32 years as a teacher and principal she has demonstrated her vocation to Catholic education through her dedication and commitment, the many young lives she has touched inside and outside the classroom, and in her great love for her faculty and staff. “She’s helped in an absolute way to build up the kingdom of God,” he said.

Jason Schreder, principal at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, praised Krista Hinkley for being “a strong component of living out our faith at Saint Thomas More as a Catholic school and providing the faith formation to our students in all areas.”

“A good team, business or school is only as strong as its players or teachers,” he said. “Mrs. Hinkley is definitely a very viable and strong player on our team at The High School of Saint Thomas More and a reason for our strength, both academically and spiritually.”

Noting that this is Sally Martin’s 51st year in education — the last nine at St. Mary School in Kickapoo — principal Rick Pantages said that alone speaks volumes about her character. He went on, however, to talk about how versatile she is and described her as loving, positive, engaging, humble and easy going, with a good sense of humor.

“All I can say about Sally is I hope she’s around for another 51 years,” Pantages said.


There were also applause and gifts for Madeline Basil, Luke Janicki and Patty Yoritomo, who completed their two years of service as teaching fellows in the Alliance for Catholic Education, a program of the University of Notre Dame. Basil and Janicki taught at St. Mark School in Peoria, while Yoritomo taught at Peoria Notre Dame.

Welcomed as new principals for the 2017-18 academic year were Emily Blumenshine, who succeeds Ashley Davis at St. Michael the Archangel School in Streator, and Heather Francque, who was mentored by Jack Schlindwein at St. Malachy School in Geneseo. (See the related story on page 5.)

Before they returned to their schools, the principals were invited to take an Oath of Fidelity to Bishop Jenky. This will become an annual tradition and is appropriate, according to Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria.

“We need to be able to show publicly our witness and our obedience to the church, to the magisterium, and, of course, to you and the office of bishop,” she told Bishop Jenky.

Following is a list of the school administrators, priests and members of the diocesan staff who are celebrating anniversaries of service in Catholic education this year:

  • Forty years: Joan Leonard, principal, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, East Moline, and Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, chaplain and faculty, St. Bede Academy, Peru.
  • Thirty-five years: Mary Cornelis, assistant principal, Seton Catholic School, Moline, and Msgr. Gerald Ward, pastor, Blessed Sacrament Parish, Morton.
  • Thirty years: Father James Pallardy, pastor, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Peoria.
  • Twenty-five years: Mike Birdoes, principal, Blessed Sacrament School, Morton.
  • Twenty years: Father David Kipfer, pastor, St. Columba, Ottawa; Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor, St. Pius X Parish, Rock Island; Father Gregory Nelson, pastor, St. Mary Parish, Bloomington; and Gwenn Roche, principal, Corpus Christi School, Bloomington.
  • Fifteen years: Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, as bishop of Peoria; Patricia Gibson, chancellor, Diocese of Peoria; Father Fredi Gomez Torres, pastor, St. Anne and St. Mary, East Moline, and St. Mary, Moline; Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, pastor emeritus, St. Patrick Church of Merna, Bloomington, and St. Mary, Downs; Father Steve Loftus, Holy Family Parish, Danville; and Trina Schmit, assistant principal, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights.
  • Ten years: Msgr. Jason Gray, pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Peoria Heights; Jyll Jasiek, principal, Holy Family School, Oglesby; Jodi Peine, principal, St. Philomena School, Peoria; Deacon Bob Sondag, vice chancellor, Diocese of Peoria; and Dr. Susan Stolt, associate superintendent, Office of Catholic Schools.
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