Bishop: Catholic education is ‘so beautiful and so good’

Bishop Barry C. Knestout was the main celebrant at Mass April 25 at St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen, as 23 Catholic teachers and their guests gathered for the Excellence in Catholic Education awards. (Photo/Vy Barto)

At an awards ceremony and Mass on April 25 at St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen, Bishop Barry C. Knestout congratulated 23 Catholic school teachers, praising Catholic education, the teachers and their families.

“There’s something so beautiful and so good about Catholic education,” said Bishop Knestout. “People are drawn towards it, and it’s a beautiful mission with a great impact.”

The teachers, one from each diocesan Catholic school, were all on hand to receive an award for Excellence in Catholic Education. The diocesan Office of Catholic Schools hosted the awards ceremony, which was preceded by dinner for award winners and guests.

At 4:15 p.m., Bishop Knestout began the evening by celebrating Mass.

“There is a great practicality to Catholic education and the work you do each day,” the bishop said in his homily. “You’re struggling with day-to-day trials: [students’] gifts, temperaments, personalities, and the whole range of human experiences.”

At the beginning of the awards ceremony, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Bigelow told the group, “Catholic schoolteachers are not known for wanting the spotlight, but each of you shined very bright, and we’re very grateful for your service.”

Four teachers were selected for special awards. Kristin Baxley, of Roanoke Catholic School, Roanoke; Jenni Gray, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News; and Kristin Patterson, of Catholic High School, Virginia Beach, all received diocesan awards. Emily Pauler, of Portsmouth Catholic Regional School (PCRS), Portsmouth, was awarded the top honor, the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.

Pauler is the middle school theology teacher at PCRS, as well as the physical education teacher for Pre-K through eighth grade. She said that she emphasizes to her students that for all Christians, the key is to follow Jesus and recognize him in others.

“We have a mixed bag of kids, but we remind them that we all have our different traditions, and following Jesus is what we do,” said Pauler.

Catholic education ‘priceless’

After a hearty meal of pulled pork, brisket and cornbread, each teacher was recognized individually and had their picture taken with the bishop. As Bigelow called each teacher to the rostrum, a quote he or she had personally written appeared on the projector screen.

“I value academic growth and take it seriously in my students. However, more than that, I want them to be valued, loved, respected and heard,” wrote Teresa McBarron, of St. Bridget School, Richmond.

Dominican Sister Mary Aquinas Halbmaier, of St. Mary Star of the Sea School, Hampton, wrote, “I try to instill wonder and to show how all areas of learning interconnect and are, as [Jesuit priest and poet] Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, ‘charged with the grandeur of God.’”

Perhaps the most direct summation was written by Eileen Mayette, of St. John the Apostle School: “Catholic education, with curriculum centered on faith and morals, is priceless.”

After each teacher was honored, Bigelow spoke individually about the four special award winners, referencing personal notes from their administrators. She highlighted unique aspects of each winner’s educational tactics. Of Jenni Gray, for instance, Bigelow noted that Gray always keeps a quote from C.S. Lewis on her whiteboard: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.”

A special guest, PCRS principal Donna Henry, presented the top prize, the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, to Pauler.

Henry and Pauler have a connection that goes beyond their relationship as principal and educator: Henry was once Pauler’s kindergarten teacher.

“The qualities that defined Emily in kindergarten still live in her today,” said Henry. “She’s ever smiling, she’s kind, she’s dependable, she’s hardworking. She’s helpful, centered on others, servant-hearted, loving, eager, God-loving, and exemplary in every way.”

PCRS was founded by the Daughters of Charity religious order in 1876. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded a religious community in 1809 known as the Sisters of Charity, which would later merge with the Daughters of Charity, founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul, to become the Daughters of Charity’s first American branch.

“The Daughters of Charity are very special at Portsmouth Catholic – they raised me, they raised Emily,” said Henry.

“Emily lives by the examples of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Vincent de Paul, keeping their charism alive through her actions,” Henry added. “She cultivates the values of the Gospel, and she knows what the Daughters of Charity stood for: that powerful combination of compassion and strength.”

Teachers and saints

Henry was not the only speaker to refer to the communion of saints in her remarks. Bishop Knestout emphasized the day of the ceremony fell on the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, and he drew a comparison between the role of teachers in the lives of students and the role of the saints in our lives.

“One of the great aspects of Catholic education is the emphasis we can place on the saints, the saints’ days and celebrations,” said Bishop Knestout. “It’s a very easy way to convey the faith to young people as we mark those celebrations through the year – not just St. Valentine and St. Patrick, but other saints as well.”

The saints fill two important roles in our Catholic life, said the bishop: they pray for us, and they provide an example to follow.

“That’s an image for our teachers: from one vantage point, you are cheering them on, helping them to achieve their best, and of course, you’re also giving them an example, something to aspire to, something to look towards in understanding, knowledge and holiness,” said Bishop Knestout.

Magdalena Cox, the middle school Spanish teacher at St. Edward-Epiphany School, said that she includes the saints and holy days in her curriculum. A native of Jerez, just south of Seville, Spain, she brings her personal experience with Catholic culture into the classroom.

“I teach all the holy days, I show them videos of Holy Week,” said Cox. “I show them the pictures of my brothers dressed up. We talk about All Saints Day, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin of Macarena [in Seville].”

One assignment that students have each year is to make their own image of the Virgin and tell Cox about it in Spanish. She also teaches Catholic prayers in Spanish: sixth graders learn the Sign of the Cross and the Glory Be, seventh graders learn the Our Father, and eighth graders learn the Hail Mary.

“One of the blessings of Catholic education is that it prepares the whole person: mind, body and spirit,” said Bishop Knestout.

Pauler stressed one simple schoolwide difference between Portsmouth Catholic and public education: the pledge that all students make in the morning.

“The students and I recite a short pledge to start our day that states: ‘I believe that Jesus is present in each of my classmates and in my teachers, and therefore all my actions will show respect for Jesus,’” said Pauler.

“I often think how simple that simple statement makes it so easy to recognize that we are in a special setting,” she added. “We are fortunate to be able to not only strive for excellence in education, but also excellence in our faith, too.”



Angela Rasmussen, All Saints Catholic School
Kristin Patterson, Catholic High School
Michael Bruscia, Charlottesville Catholic School
Amanda Owens, Christ the King Catholic School
Charlotte Jenkins, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School
Jenni Gray, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School
Peggy Rogala, Peninsula Catholic High School
Emily Pauler, Portsmouth Catholic Regional School
Kristin Baxley, Roanoke Catholic School
Kitzya Ramirez Leon, Sacred Heart Catholic School
Anne Johnson, St. Anne Catholic School
Erin Herrity, St. Benedict Catholic School
Teresa Ross McBarron, St. Bridget Catholic School
Magdalena F. Cox, St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School
Lorri Lin Griffin, St. Gregory the Great Catholic School
Eileen M. Mayette, St. John the Apostle Catholic School
Renee Fraine, St. Joseph Catholic School
Denise O. Reardon, St. Mary’s Catholic School
Sister Mary Aquinas Halbmaier, O.P., St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic School
Michelle Powell, St. Matthew’s Catholic School
Emily Danovich, St. Pius X Catholic School
Annette J. Martinez, Star of the Sea Catholic School
Meg Anderson, The Blessed Sacrament Huguenot School

Diocesan Awards

Kristin Baxley, Roanoke Catholic School

Jenni Gray, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School

Kristin Patterson, Catholic High School


Elizabeth Ann Seton Award 

Emily Pauler, Portsmouth Catholic Regional School


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