by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — Could it be something in the water? If so, somebody ought to bottle it and call it “Catholic School Excellence.”
Two Catholic school teachers won honor, glory and bragging rights for capital city Catholic schools when they won Archdiocesan Teacher of the Year awards for 2022-23 — plus one.
“It is a coincidence, but great things are happening in Topeka,” said archdiocesan superintendent of schools Vince Cascone.
Mary Osborne from Holy Family School was named Archdiocesan Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Judy Cucciniello from Hayden High School was named Archdiocesan High School Teacher of the Year and was also awarded the Kansas Association of Independent and Religious Schools (KAIRS) Distinguished Teacher award, Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“This is the first year we’ve given two Archdiocesan Teacher of the Year awards,” said Allison Carney, archdiocesan associate superintendent of schools.
“We thought it would be a good idea to separate elementary from high school because they’re different beasts, for lack of a better word, and give an additional opportunity for teachers to be recognized,” she added.
Both Cascone and Carney praised the two winners as outstanding examples of dedicated, faithful teachers who care for their students and make Catholic schools successful.
Osborne, in her 12th year as an educator, has always taught at Catholic schools. She began in Bellevue, Nebraska, and came to Holy Family School seven years ago. She taught second grade for five years before becoming a kindergarten teacher.
“I was shocked, humbled and extremely grateful [to receive the award],” said Osborne. “I knew that I had been nominated, but I had no idea that I actually won the award. Teaching is my calling and vocation, and I was overwhelmed by this recognition of my efforts, sacrifices and passion for Catholic education and children.”
Osborne was called “exceptional,” “gifted” and “a shining example” by Holy Family principal Travis Lamb.
“Osborne not only possesses an incredible set of skills, but she has an exceptional dedication to her craft and our school,” said Lamb. “She takes an extraordinary interest in every student’s success at Holy Family. . . . Quick-witted and sharp, she is able to review copious amounts of difficult material to implement best practices.”
Lamb also praised her for living the Gospel virtues she teaches and describes her as “joyfully Catholic.”
Osborne received her award in January after an all-school Mass at Sacred Heart Church, Topeka; it was presented by Cascone, Carney and assistant superintendent Lorenzo Rizzi.
Cucciniello is a 36-year veteran of Catholic education and has always taught at Catholic schools, starting in New Jersey. Only one of her five children was young enough to attend Hayden when the family moved to Topeka, but four of her grandchildren are Hayden graduates and one is currently a Hayden freshman.
During her 31-year tenure at Hayden, Cucciniello taught chemistry and college/AP chemistry for 28 years. She also taught math, theology and study skills. She put her graduate degree in special education to use by being a support service coordinator for children with special needs for 26 years. Last year, she transitioned completely from science to special education when she became Hayden’s full-time resource room instructor.
“I was overjoyed and overwhelmed when I went up to receive the plaque,” said Cucciniello. “Everyone stood up and applauded. Having been told the day before that I was going to be presented an award at Mass, my husband was also present for the announcement.
“My colleagues and the students were so excited for me. It was truly one of the most amazing moments of my career.”
Hayden principal James Sandstrom said that Cucciniello’s “dedication to her students is unparalleled” and she is “a tremendous example to her colleagues” — some of them calling her “a living saint” for the way she serves others in a Christ-like manner.
“Growing up, Cucciniello was diagnosed with dyslexia and an auditory processing disorder,” said Sandstrom. “She credits her academic success to a nun she had as a teacher in her elementary years who worked with her to overcome her academic challenges.”
Cucciniello received her archdiocesan award during an all-school Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on Jan. 31. She was presented the award by Cascone, Carney and Rizzi. She received the KAIRS award on Feb. 6 at an awards banquet.