by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “There’s a difference in our schools, and it’s you,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at a brunch honoring educators throughout the archdiocese.
“That’s what the whole society, not just Catholics, took note of last year — our Catholic schools,” he said.
When most public schools closed and relied on virtual learning during the pandemic, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas stayed open.
“You made that possible,” the archbishop told the group of teachers, which represented 36 of the 42 schools in the archdiocese.
He attributed the success of archdiocesan schools during the pandemic to the teachers’ determination to continue in-person learning while following guidelines to ensure student safety.
“You put the students first,” he said. “You found a way to make the learning experience in our schools the best it could be in those circumstances.”
The brunch, hosted by the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF), was a prelude to the archdiocesan teachers being honored at this October’s CEF Gaudeamus benefit gala as recipients of the Michael and Patty Morrissey Angels Among Us award.
Citing a report by McKinsey & Company, a global research group, CEF executive director Vince Anch told the educators that polling showed students learning from home last year ended up five months behind in math and four months behind in reading.
“So, that’s just proof in the pudding of how important [in-person learning] is,” he said. “And that’s in addition to something we have that other schools don’t: faith formation.
“That’s what you guys are bringing to the table.”
Anch recalled that during the process of choosing an Angel Among Us honoree, several board members called him to say “what our teachers did this past year was absolutely heroic.”
“You guys went in-person every day,” Anch told the gathered educators. “And you did it before vaccines; you did not miss a beat.
“And for that reason, we thought let’s honor all the teachers. It was unanimous from our board. Could there be a better honoree?”
Chairman of the board Jeff Jaworski, whose father was a Catholic school teacher, thanked the teachers on behalf of the board for their effort during the pandemic.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my dad,” he said. “And that means I couldn’t be more proud of who you are and what you do.”
Jaworski emphasized the importance of the faith formation woven through every Catholic school learning experience.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for all of the things you’ve done this last year and a half,” he said. “But, most importantly, for the things you do every single day in teaching our kids the Catholic faith.
“I remember one time my dad saying, ‘Jeff, English and math won’t get a kid to heaven, but their Catholic faith will.’
“That’s what matters.”
Archdiocesan superintendent of schools Vince Cascone agreed with Jaworski and specifically talked about the fear generated by the pandemic and how it may impact our children.
“Our faith in God can overcome that fear,” he said. “What a great example you were to our students and our families that we don’t have to live in fear.
“We can do the things we need to do to be safe; we can do the things we need to do to help protect one another,” he said.
Archbishop Naumann wrapped up the morning by reflecting on his own mother’s experience as a Catholic school teacher and principal.
“I was able to see firsthand the dedication of a teacher,” he said. “And your work doesn’t end when classes are over.
“It begins as you prepare for the next day.”
He reiterated the importance helping our children develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as part of the education experience.
“If we are doing that,” he said, “our test scores are going to be very good, and our kids are going to excel at extracurriculars.
“They’re going to have a motivation you don’t have unless you believe in God and see that you’re using your gifts in the very best way to glorify God.”