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Educators joyfully rejoice at awards together

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SAN DIEGO — The annual Catholic Educators’ Awards Presentation, held in person for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw record-breaking attendance this year.

Nearly 300 Catholic school teachers and administrators gathered May 19 in the chapel courtyard at Cathedral Catholic High School, making it “the biggest one we’ve had” since the event was first held eight years ago, said John Galvan, director of the diocesan Office for Schools.

“The sheer joy … was palpable,” he said. “People were just so happy to be together, to celebrate one another, to celebrate their colleagues and their various milestones.”

The event, which is organized by the Office for Schools, had been held virtually for the past two years.

Some 63 educators received recognition for their 10, 20 or 30 years in Catholic education, along with Principal Sylvia Benning, of St. Charles School in Imperial Beach, for her 40 years of service and 10 educators who are retiring at the end of this school year.

“They’re not looking to get awards,” Galvan said of the teachers recognized. “They’re trying to help our Catholic schools and help our kids. And I just have so much respect for that.”

The Schools Office also presented various “Awards of Distinction,” including:

— The Good Shepherd Award, for a member of the clergy who models discipleship, truth and courage. This year’s recipient was Father Patrick Mulcahy, pastor of Mary Star of the Sea Parish in La Jolla.

— The Distinguished Principal Award, presented to Amanda Johnston of St. Mary’s School in Escondido.

— The Catholic Teacher of the Year Award, which went to both an elementary school teacher, Amanda Ahearn of St. Pius X School in Chula Vista, and a high school teacher, Christine LaPorte of Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley.

— The Re-Imagine Catholic Schools Award, which goes to a school that recognizes the needs of 21st-century students. It was presented this year to St. Columba School, which is the first school in the diocese to implement departmentalization across all grade levels and has adopted restorative justice principles in its approach to discipline.

— The “All Are Welcome” Inclusive Education Award, presented to St. Francis of Assisi School in Vista, where more than 50% of students are multiracial. The school invests in faculty and staff members’ professional development, especially in the area of English Language Development, and operates a learning support program for students with special needs.

— The Sr. Breege Boyle Award, for a preschool program or director who has made a difference, to Desiree Fajota of Good Shepherd School.

— The ACT Fellow Award, which recognizes an Academy of Catholic Teaching fellow who has demonstrated the three pillars of the University Consortium of Catholic Education – service through teaching, community involvement, and spiritual development – while working through their academic program at the University of San Diego. This year’s recipient was Kailee Norris from St. Michael’s School.

— The Philanthropist of the Year Award, presented to investor Fred Clark and attorney Jim Mittermiller for their support of St. Rita’s School. They have built a network of philanthropy over the past five years that has provided more than $5 million in tuition-assistance and operational support to the school.

— The Sr. Claire Patrice Lifetime Achievement Award, which is granted for major contributions over many years of educational leadership in the diocese. It was presented this year to Susan Hause, who served as the first lay principal of Our Lady of Grace School in El Cajon from 2000 until her retirement in 2019.

The 2022 Catholic Educators’ Awards Presentation was luau-themed and featured Hawaiian dancers as the evening’s entertainment. It was an appropriate theme, considering that the local Catholic school community will soon be saying “aloha” (goodbye) to Galvan, who is stepping down after eight years as head of the Schools Office, and “aloha” (hello) to Leticia Oseguera, who will succeed him as superintendent of diocesan schools on July 1.

Galvan said that his own Schools Office staff “kind of hijacked the end of the ceremony” to acknowledge his upcoming departure. Dr. Kevin Calkins, president of Cathedral Catholic High School and a friend of Galvan’s, was invited to share a few words about him.

Galvan hopes that the educators left this year’s awards presentation with “pride in their work and their call to ministry.”

“I hope it reaffirms that same call and their continued commitment to serve Catholic schools,” he said, “because I believe that Catholic schools are really part of the answer to what the world needs right now.”

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