Diocese recognizes teachers committed to school, parish, community

MICHIGAN CITY – Teachers and principals from throughout the Diocese of Gary descended upon Marquette Catholic High School on Feb. 15 for a professional development day. While it was an opportunity to learn from guest speakers Ted Nietzke, Dr. Michelle Grewe and Father Declan McNicholas, it was also an occasion to celebrate the educators within Catholic education that go above and beyond in their jobs.
During a presentation in the auditorium, Colleen Brewer, diocesan superintendent of schools, announced new awards that honored the Doctors of the Church, a special and specific title bestowed on certain saints who are deemed to have contributed significantly to the Doctrine of the Church through their research, study or writing. The first four awards also happen to be named after the four female Doctors of the Church:
St. Catherine of Siena Leadership Award: St. Catherine of Siena was born in Siena, Italy in 1343. She was dedicated to prayer, but also active in the outside world. The St. Catherine of Siena Leadership Award is given to teachers or administrators willing to lead according to the Church’s mission, even when there may be criticism.
This award went to Dr. Samantha Francis, principal of St. Thomas More School in Munster.
Father Michael Yadron, pastor, who nominated her, said she embodies everything that a teacher hopes for in an administrator.
“She handles things with grace, dignity and puts Christ at the center of everything she does,” he said. “I respect the way she always strives to do better and encourages others to pray through any type of situation.”
St. Therese of Lisieux Building Discipleship Award: St. Therese of Lisieux was born in France in 1873. Her life was dedicated to serving Jesus by doing small acts of love. The St. Therese of Lisieux Building Discipleship Award is given to teachers or administrators demonstrating what it means to be a missionary disciple.
The two recipients of the award this year are Katherine Bogan of St. Paul School in Valparaiso and Juana Valdes of St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago.
Bogan is the middle school social studies and religion teacher and coordinates the student Masses each week. She has been a Catholic school educator for 27 years, starting in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1990. She has worked at St. Paul for the past 17 years and said she “goes to school everyday to be the person God has called me to be.
“I strive to allow the students to have that personal relationship and friendship with God and that everyone is on their own journey with God,” said Bogan. “I stress to give all your best to the Lord every day.”    
Valdes is the eighth grade homeroom teacher and middle school religion and literature teacher. In addition to teaching, she prepares the school yearbook and is the religious coordinator which includes arranging Mass, helping second graders with the sacrament of reconciliation and First Holy Communion, and preparing eighth graders for confirmation.
“I like to make a personal connection with the families at my school,” said Valdes. “This is important to me, because I am very grateful to them for choosing my school. I feel honored to be a part of the educational experience.”
St. Hildegard of Bingen Innovation Award: St. Hildegard was born in Germany in 1098. Her life and writings were highly influential to the Church. The St. Hildegard of Bingen Innovation Award is given to teachers or administrators who are visionaries or innovators in their school or classroom.
The award went to Margaret Donner of St. John Bosco School in Hammond.
Donner has taught second grade at SJB for many years and has a reputation for being “born to teach.” In addition to her grade level responsibilities, she has served on curriculum committees, trained with the Orton Gillingham program and uses that training to tutor students.
Donner said when she was walking up to accept the award, she saw many great educators that also are innovative and dedicated to working in Catholic schools and felt humbled.
“Teaching is not just a job, but a vocation that takes a village,” she said. “We do not do it alone. We truly are the hands and feet of Jesus, ready to serve.”
St. Teresa of Avila Academic Excellence Award: St. Teresa of Avila was born in 1515 in Avila, Spain and became a Carmelite nun where she worked to reform the Carmelite order and return it to a life dedicated to contemplative prayer. The St. Teresa of Avila Academic Excellence Award is given to teachers/administrators who are inspiring excellence through all the little things they do to impact learning in schools.
The award was given to two teachers – Allison Huffman of St. Mary Catholic Community School in Crown Point and Edwin Shelton of Marquette High School in Michigan City.
Huffman was called an exceptional preschool teacher who creates a nurturing and stimulating environment that fosters a love for learning in young ones. She is known for understanding each child’s strengths and challenges and tailors her teaching to accommodate various learning styles. She also creates connections with parents to develop a collaboration between home and school.
Shelton teaches art classes and volunteers his time to help students fundraise. He helps organize meaningful cross-curricular field trips, participates in Awaken (Kairos) retreats, chaperones events and founded a Young Man’s Club. 
“I was positively stunned when Superintendent Brewer shook my hand on the stage,” he said. “As an art teacher my mission is to encourage and support the creativity of the students no matter what their respective skill levels might be.” 
Bishop Andrew Grutka Student Advocacy Award: Bishop Andrew Grutka was the first bishop for the Diocese of Gary, lived out that ministry for 27 years and had a special affinity for the education of youth. Bishop Grutka was known for his passionate opposition to racial discrimination, going so far as to denounce such practices during the Second Vatican Council. The Bishop Andrew Grutka Student Advocacy Award is given to teachers or administrators who continue to advocate for all students.
Angela Williams from Marquette High School is the recipient of the first Bishop Andrew Grutka Student Advocacy Award.
Williams constantly develops innovative activities and procedures that put the focus on her students and their own unique learning styles. Outside the classroom she is a prominent member of the Marquette community, serves as the freshman class sponsor and organizes a Lady Blazer Lock-in, structured for women to socialize and lift each other up.
Nominees for these awards must be a full-time teacher or administrator in a Catholic school in the Diocese of Gary, actively engaged in the direct teaching of students. The nominee also must have a minimum of three years of service within the diocese and model a Christian, faith-filled life. Winners received an engraved, acrylic award and also a certificate and a gift card funded by Big Shoulders Fund.
Brewer said when thinking about ways to celebrate diocesan educators, the awards seemed like a perfect opportunity.
“In discussing great models of these attributes, the four women doctors in the church have inspired generations of people, showing what it looks like to live a holy and impactful life,” she said. “It is a blessing to be able to draw parallels between the impactful work these educators do on a daily basis and inspirational people in our Church.”