26th Annual Celebration of Catholic Schools celebrates their 'Mission from God'

By Kathy Cribari Hamer

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

 Bishop Kevin Vann received the 2013 Diocesan Leadership Award at this year's Catholic Schools Banquet. Pictured with him are the 2013 Catholic School honorees Jean Gatch, Nancy Martin, Rev. Michael Holmberg, Karen Roach, Lisa Peterson, Dr. Joan Moran, Gabriel Duarte, Teresa Brady, Lisa Losoya, Mary Battle, Jimmy Jack, Donna Biffle, Christina Cornevin, Diane Geiser, Anita Lazo, Amy Felton, Sharon Waldrep, Gael O'Connell, Sonja Swirczynski, Helen Scott, and Claudia Hernadez.

A pair of black “Wayfarer” style sunglasses lay at each of 500-plus place-settings in the ballroom of the Fort Worth Convention Center Jan. 26. It was time for the diocese’s yearly Celebration of Catholic Schools, and the shades were there to bring to mind the ones worn in the iconic 1980 movie, "The Blues Brothers".

In the movie, Jake and Elwood Blues, visiting their former orphanage and the nuns who raised them, learned the archdiocese needed $5,000 to keep the facility open. The brothers tackled the problem by reuniting their blues band and raising money with a big performance. They called it their “Mission from God.”

At the Fort Worth Diocese’s 2013 education banquet, they too were celebrating a mission.

The event, part of National Catholic Schools’ Week, welcomed guests with a display of student art, and choral performances from students at Holy Family and St. Andrew Schools, and Nolan Catholic High School. Before dinner was served, the colors were presented by the Our Mother of Mercy School’s Claude Platte Cadets.

When the after-dinner program began, the audience was entertained with Blues Brothers references, first from Master of Ceremonies John Rhadigan, Fox Sports Network sports anchor, who wore sunglasses and explained the theme, and later from keynote speaker Joseph Boland, vice president of Mission at Catholic Extension. The Chicago native delighted the assembly, telling them he felt a profound duty to make the Blues Brothers theme come alive, by teaching a 30-second crash course in speaking like a Chicagoan. He was successful.

The Mission from God theme stretched itself from amusement to a substantive, heart-warming discussion of the word “mission” itself, from the Catholic Extension’s founding by Pope Pius X in 1905, to its work in the poorest parts of the country.

“We are helping 91 of the 195 United States dioceses, representing 11 million of the 65 million Catholics in this country,” Boland explained. “Catholic Extension provides support by strategically investing the resources provided to us by our donors.”

Catholic Extension’s motto a century ago was “Awakening the Mission Spirit in America,” he said. “You see, we believe if you give people a chance to live their faith, it becomes a leaven that ultimately transforms hearts, lives, and society as a whole.”

Of his own experience with Catholic education, Boland recalled sending his first-born daughter to school, feeling reluctant before her first day of school about sending her to an institution where, for the first time, other influences outside their home and family would be part of her life.

“But then I recalled where I was sending my daughter,” he said, emotionally, “and what a tremendous blessing Catholic School education would be for my child. And my anxiety melted away.... You are the champions,” he said to the audience of educators and their supporters, “of this wonderful, beautiful, extraordinary ministry… Thank you for your tremendous mission, and thank you for accepting the call to be on a mission from God.”

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A moving video, produced by Big Bad Wolf Creative Group, spearheaded by a former recipient of the Catholic Schools Leadership Award, Chuck Johnson, provided another highlight of the Annual Catholic Schools Banquet. The video featured student photographs, messages from five school staff, and a moving narrative by diocesan Superintendent Donald Miller.

Miller, who narrated the film, was serious when he began the video: “Yes, we’re on a mission from God, but unlike the Blues Brothers, the mission from God goes far beyond a few days of hijinks. The mission of our Catholic Schools is rooted in our baptismal commitment to spread the good news.

“Each of our Catholic schools focuses on supporting parents in their roll as the primary educators of their children,” he said, “by bringing each and all of the Catholic school community into a daily, personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Sustained by his gospel witness, the mission of our Catholic Schools must teach and show that there are real consequences to a real faith.

“A real faith is one that must refuse to be forced from daily life. A faith that demonstrates constantly the coherence between what we proclaim and what we practice. It must be a faith that brings all to the realization that love of neighbor is an inextricable consequence of the love of God.

“Indeed we’re on a mission not only from God, but with God, through God, and ultimately to God.”

Miller explained that in June, 2012, 16 school administrators had gone on a week-long journey, “out of their comfort zone,” into El Paso, to learn and understand firsthand, the trials and challenges of immigration into the US. Throughout the film, personal reflections came from four principals and a teacher: All Saints principal Christina Mendez; St. George teacher and Maryknoll team member Felicia Gehrig; Cassata High School principal Nancy Martin; St. Joseph School principal Chad Riley; and Sacred Heart School principal Rafael Rondón.

The film ended with Miller: “As the words to one of our most powerful contemporary hymns reminds us, ‘We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.’

“Yes, our Catholic Schools are on a mission from God. And we’re proud of it, and committed to it.”

The climax of the evening’s events came with Miller’s presentation of the Outstanding Service Awards, presented to representatives from each of the schools, and the annual Diocesan Leadership Award presented to Bishop Kevin Vann, beloved former bishop of Fort Worth who was installed bishop of Orange, California last December.

Miller introduced the Leadership award, saying, “The Diocesan leadership award was established to recognize those people who through their lives and service have made significant contributions to the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Fort Worth. I have heard it said that the best efforts of many fine people are often only felt after they’ve left our presence. Well in this case, I don’t think Bishop Vann had to leave to be appreciated.”

Miller summarized Bishop Vann’s importance to the Fort Worth Diocese’s Catholic schools, deriving from “his vision and commitment to reinforce the centrality of Catholic schools, to the ministry of our parish and diocesan communities.”

“All of us involved with Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth understood,” Miller said, “very clearly, that Bishop Vann’s first priority was that our schools always be absolutely and authentically Catholic. The Catholic identity of our schools was always number one – everything else tied for second.”

In closing his introduction to the bishop’s award, Miller referenced a quote from St. Augustine that the bishop himself referenced before leaving for California: “Let us sing Alleluia on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in Heaven in full spirit.…Even in immense trials and temptations, let us all sing ‘Alleluia, God is faithful.’”

Let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, he said, but to lighten our labors. Yes sing, but keep going.

“Tonight, Bishop Vann,” Miller concluded, as he prepared to present the award, along with Monsignor Stephen Berg, diocesan administrator, “we are here to sing Alleluia to you, and say thank you for what you’ve done and meant to the Catholic schools of our diocese. But we’re also here to commit to you, that faithful to that legacy, we’re going to sing, but we’re gonna keep going.”

A pair of black “Wayfarer” style sunglasses lay at each of 500-plus place-settings in the ballroom of the Fort Worth Convention Center Jan. 26.

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