End of school year celebrated with Mass, gratitude, two years of diocesan awards
After two challenging years of providing instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the principals, pastors and school chaplains of Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria gathered May 5 to celebrate what they had been able to do.
During a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, they heard words of thanks from Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, who presided, and Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools.
Making the celebration twice as joyful was the presentation of awards to the Distinguished Pastors, Distinguished Principals and Distinguished Teachers of the Year by the Office of Catholic Schools, since last year’s honors had to be deferred. Retirements and milestone anniversaries were also noted.
“Life certainly has been interesting, to say the least,” Bishop Tylka told them during his homily. “You’ve done a remarkable job in your Catholic schools and parishes to keep us going. So thank you for all of those efforts. You do us proud.”
He also commended them for working faithfully, “with great generosity and great commitment, to make a difference in so many lives, in so many ways.”
Using his own experience as a school pastor in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Bishop Tylka said he learned quickly how important good communication between the school office and the parish office can be — whether it’s a classroom issue or a pandemic.
“When we’re focused on a mission, when we’re willing to do it with one another as disciples, as principals and pastors and chaplains and bishop and priests and families and the Office of Catholic Schools, when we’re willing to work together we can certainly overcome any of the obstacles that the world presents to us,” he said.
“So as we gather today, we recognize and honor those who have done great work and shown leadership. We also do so committing ourselves as the church, as well as disciples . . . to this honorable mission that helps us each as individuals and us as a diocese and our schools to grow in relationship with Jesus, because that is our mission,” Bishop Tylka said.
TWICE THE AWARDS, JOY
Bishop Tylka would go on to lead the applause for those who were honored at the end of Mass, starting with retirements. They included Anita Kobilsek, longtime principal of Holy Cross School in Mendota; Mike Lootens, principal at Epiphany Catholic School in Normal; and Dr. Susan Stolt, who retired in March as associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria.
Recognized for years of service were:
- 30 YEARS: Laura Cody, principal, St. Paul School, Macomb; Msgr. Philip Halfacre, pastor, St. Michael the Archangel School, Streator; and Doreen Shipman, principal, St. Patrick School, Washington.
- 25 YEARS: Msgr. Brian Brownsey, pastor, St. Mark School, Peoria; and Father Joseph Dondanville, pastor, St. Mary School, Kickapoo.
- 20 YEARS: Father Joseph Donton, pastor, Holy Cross School, Champaign; Father Gregory Nelson, pastor, St. Mary School, Bloomington; and Father Peter Pilon, pastor, Holy Cross School, Mendota.
- 15 YEARS: Maureen Bentley, principal, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights; Father Vien Van Do, pastor, St. Mary School, Metamora; Heather Francque, principal, St. Malachy School, Geneseo; Msgr. Jason Gray, pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights; Jyll Jasiek, principal, Holy Family School, Oglesby; Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP, principal, St. Jude School, Peoria; Brooke Rick, principal, Marquette Academy, Ottawa; and Father Thomas Szydlik, parochial vicar, Sts. Peter and Paul School, Nauvoo.
- 10 YEARS: Emily Blumenshine, principal, St. Michael the Archangel School, Streator; Father Paul Carlson, pastor, Holy Family School, Oglesby; David Welch, principal, Carroll Catholic School, Lincoln; and Adrienne Wilson, principal, Corpus Christi School, Bloomington.
Special honors went to Distinguished Teachers of the Year James Taber of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington for 2019-2020, and Kathy Mazander of St. Mary School in Kickapoo for 2020-2021.
The Distinguished Principal of the Year for 2019-2020 was Dr. Noreen Dillon of St. Mark School in Peoria, while Jane Barrett of Seton Catholic School in Moline received the award for 2020-2021.
Taking home the honor as Distinguished Pastor of the Year for 2019-2020 was Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor of Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island. Recognized for 2020-2021 was Father Johndamaseni Zilimu, pastor of Visitation Catholic School in Kewanee.
Bishop Tylka greeted every principal and received spiritual bouquets from their students and faculties. There were also spiritual bouquets for Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who joined the group as they gathered under a tent on the lawn of his residence for lunch.
EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Mass and lunch will be posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.