by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven
ROELAND PARK — Bishop Miege’s Mary Perrini wasn’t just informed that she was to be the first recipient of an American Humanics Student Association award from Kansas State University.
She was also informed that the brand-new award was to be called the Mary Jean Perrini Inspire to Serve Award.
Miege alum and KSU student Stephanie Larson was on hand at the Roeland Park high school on Nov. 24 to present the award to the campus ministry and Christian social service program director at an all-school Mass.
“The award is being named in honor of Mrs. Perrini because of her continuous inspiration of high school students to serve,” explained Larson. “It is because of high school teachers and mentors like Mrs. Perrini that students like myself have the opportunity to learn the importance of serving at a young age and how to make service to others a lifelong commitment.”
Each year, the Mary Jean Perrini Inspire to Serve Award will be presented to a high school teacher who demonstrates the importance of community service and philanthropic work as well as academic excellence. The teacher must also be passionate about his or her students’ growth — not only in the school, but as individuals as well.
Additionally, the recipient must also devote his or her personal time to the betterment of every student in his or her classroom. Finally, the teacher must inspire involvement in campus activities, community leadership and service.
Dr. Joe Passantino, president of Bishop Miege High School, could not think of a more fitting honor for Perrini.
“What makes Mary so deserving of this award is that she does much more than just organizing all of these service experiences for our students,” said Passantino. “Teens, like all of us, are looking for role models. Mary provides that example through her powerful Christian witness as she goes on many of these service opportunities herself — whether it is in town or across the nation.”
Although there are numerous service projects available to teens, Passantino said Perrini was particularly dedicated to creating meaningful service opportunities for students. Her work has not gone unnoticed.
“Under Mary’s leadership and guidance, our campus ministry program has earned a national reputation for serving people in need all over the nation,” said Passantino. “The huge number of service hours our students do over and above the requirement is a real testament to her efforts. Each year over 150 Miege students give up time from their winter, spring or summer breaks to go on mission trips.”
Through it all, Passantino said, Perrini’s goal is always for students to connect the service to their faith.
“I admire how she always relates these experiences to our Catholic faith — by using Christ as her example of how he served the poor,” said Passantino. “It is so very impressive to see Mary inspire our students to walk in Christ’s footsteps and serve those in need.”
Perrini will tell you she has many goals for what kids will experience during campus ministry activities and service projects. But it all really boils down to one overarching concept.
“I really want to inspire kids to see that they can make a difference,” said Perrini.
Perrini said that the desire to inspire and help kids is what landed her in campus ministry in the first place.
“I started out as a theology teacher and then went back to get my master’s in counseling because kids would come to see me for help and to talk, and I wanted to be able to better help them,” said Perrini, who has been at Bishop Miege since 1989 and the campus ministry director since 1994. “Being in campus ministry is a nice blend of faith and counseling . . . with a lot of service.”
For Perrini, it is gratifying to see Miege alumni going on to make a difference after high school — like Larson and 2004 alum Paul Titterington, who both had strong experiences with campus ministry at Miege and were instrumental in nominating Perrini for the honor at KSU.
“It’s seeing the best in young people,” said Perrini. “I’m never disappointed in seeing youth come through difficult circumstances. Getting to see them just be themselves is really rewarding.”
For Passantino, the way Perrini was nominated for the award says it all.
“That these students would want to recognize her for how she has inspired them by naming an award for her is a great tribute to her wonderful work,” he said.