Office of Catholic Schools year-end Mass & recognitions May 7

Priests, as diocesan faith leaders, were out in force to concelebrate Mass with Bishop Tylka and support their school leaders at St. Mary’s Cathedral on May 7. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

The Office of Catholic Schools annual year-end celebration for school administrators on May 7 — National Teacher Appreciation Day — began appropriately with the celebration of Holy Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria by Bishop Louis Tylka.

In his homily, Bishop Tylka said that as he prepared to celebrate this Mass for school administrators, he prayerfully reflected on the day’s first readings, where Paul and Silas are in chains (ACTS 16:22-34), and then are miraculously freed, and convert their jailer and his family to faith in Jesus.


He acknowledged the challenges of school administration might make principals feel as if they were “chained in some ways, restricted.”

Jacqueline Kelly, principal of Peoria Notre Dame High School, served as lector. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

Still, he prayed they would have the satisfaction of knowing that the hearts of children they have tried to shape and mold, “will truly have been touched by the grace and spirit, and the power and love of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Louis Tylka prayed that school leaders would know the hearts of children they have tried to shape and mold, ‘will truly have been touched by the grace and spirit, and the power and love of Jesus Christ.'”

Sister Bridget Martin, FSGM, principal of the The High School of St. Thomas More in Champaign, proclaimed the general intercessions, including, “That our Catholic school pastors and principals, and all who serve in the ministry of Catholic education, may be blessed in their efforts to bring the kingdom of heaven into our midst, we pray to the Lord . . . ”

Music supporting the liturgy was provided by Director of Sacred Music and organist Jon Kroepel, and Aria Main, director of music at Sacred Heart Church in Peoria, served as cantor.


Following Mass, the program continued with lunch at nearby Spalding Pastoral Center, as well as recognitions for retiring school leaders, and for principals and pastors marking significant work anniversaries. The official agenda concluded with the presentation of awards for distinguished teacher, principal and pastor of the year.

With Bishop Louis Tylka at Office of Catholic Schools year-end recognition luncheon May 7 are (from left): Jerry Sanderson, superintendent of Catholic Schools; Father Greg Nelson, Distinguished Pastor, St. Mary School, Bloomington; Mrs. Karen Jones, Distinguished Principal, St. Mary School, Pontiac; and Derek Ray, Distinguished Teacher, The High School of St. Thomas Moore, Champaign. The Catholic Post Online/Paul Thomas Moore

During his remarks, the newly-appointed superintendent of Catholic schools, Jerry Sanderson, gave thanks for all the support he had received.

“This role that I have taken on as superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools would not be possible if not for the work our pastors, our principals, and our teachers are doing to make our Catholic schools what they are: faithful to the salvific mission of Jesus Christ and his Church.”

Congratulations for a job well-done were extended to six school principals:

Dr. Noreen Dillon, St. Mark School, Peoria;

Mrs. Victoria “Tori” McCullum, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, East Moline;

Mr. Richard Morehouse, St. Paul School, Odell;

Sr. Maria Christi Nelson, OP, St. Jude Catholic School, Peoria;

Mrs. Barbara Rew, Schlarman Academy, Danville; and,

Mr. Tim Smith, St. Malachy School, Geneseo.

Recognized for work anniversaries were:

30 YEARS: Father Mark DeSutter, pastor of Seton Catholic School, Moline.

20 YEARS: Mrs. Maureen Bentley, principal, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights.

10 YEARS: Father John Cyr, chaplain, Schlarman Academy, Danville; and Father Johnathan Steffen, pastor of St. Patrick School, Washington.


Excerpts from the nomination letters of this year’s winners are very revealing of their worthiness:


Nominated by Sister M. Bridget Martin, FSGM, principal, The High School of St. Thomas More

Derek went through the (University of) Notre Dame ACEs program, and embodies what it means it be a Catholic school educator. Every class of his begins with him saying, “Let us remember” and the students responding, “that we are in the holy presence of God.” Then they pray.

Each class begins with him saying, ‘Let us remember’ and the students responding, ‘that we are in the holy presence of God.'”

Derek holds students to high standards, he goes out of his way to help those who are struggling, and he builds community among his coworkers.

He has put so much time and energy to helping STM be an even better school!


Nominated by Mick Peterson, Junior High English language arts teacher, St. Mary School

“It’s not about me” at St. Mary’s – “it’s about Jesus.”

‘It’s not about me’ at St. Mary’s – ‘it’s about Jesus.'” — St. Mary (Pontiac) teacher Mick Peterson commenting on the environment principal Karen Jones has nurtured among students and staff

This hasn’t happened by accident. For example, Karen has introduced the practice of “Holy Moments,” a chance for both students and faculty to share special moments in our lives that have the fingerprint of God on them.

Karen Jones cares; she cares about the children; she cares about her staff. Her door is always open to the needs of the people under her tutelage. Because of her leadership and example, people WANT to come to school here — both students and staff.

She makes others around her better, the best compliment one can make for a leader.


His ears are always open for listening. His hands are always open for service. His heart is always open for everyone.” — St. Mary (Bloomington) principal Jamie Hartwich about Father Greg Nelson

Nominated by Jamie Hartrich, principal, St. Mary School 

Father Greg treats us all as if we were family. He loves and cares for his flock and gathers us together as the children of God.

He is one of those individuals who will help – and then when you say thank you he doesn’t understand why you are saying thank you. He is very humble.

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. His heart is always open for everyone. He is an inspiration to all that worship and serve at St. Mary’s.

We have an excellent example to follow as we Love, Live, Learn, and Serve as Christ taught us.


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