Howdy NCEA!

April 16, 2013

HOUSTON — The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Convention and Expo, the largest private education association gathering in the nation, was hosted by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center, April 2 to 4.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo kicked off the conference and expo with an opening Mass celebrating Catholic education and the rich diversity of Archdiocesan Catholic schools, the region, the nation as a whole and the 17 countries represented at the conference.

Along with close to 400 professional development sessions from which participants chose from, there were also daily keynote addresses and hundreds of vendors with the latest materials and technology to demonstrate new ways of teaching and learning.

Participants were welcomed by Karen Ristau, Ed.D, NCEA president, and Sister Kevina Keating, CCVI, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese. 

"I myself wasn't born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could," Sister Keating told the more than 8,000 attendees, many of whom was their first time in Texas. "I've learned a couple things here... If someone describes you as ‘Big hat, no cattle,' it's not exactly a compliment, (it means) all talk, no action."

In a gesture of Texas hospitality to welcome visitors, each of the Catholic school communities of Galveston-Houston created jumbo-sized cowboy boots which were positioned throughout the convention center. These larger-than-life art projects showcased school colors and mottos. 

"So please, for my sake – and I'm among friends, right? – if you put nothing else on your evaluation put that you liked the boots," Sister Keating joked.

Father Robert Barron, a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, opened the first general session immediately following the opening Mass with his talk on new evangelization. Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, is the well-known host of "Catholicism," a 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic faith. 

On Wednesday, Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, a member of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and associate professor at the University of Dayton, spoke about how to incorporate the latest brain research, cultural awareness and journeys in the Internet and cyberspace in our teaching. Wednesday's liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane and chairman of the NCEA board of directors. 

The closing address was delivered by William F. Baker, who explored the psychological principles of why and how leadership works. 

Baker directs the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy and Education at Fordham University following a distinguished career in broadcasting. He retired in 2008 following 20 years as chief executive officer for WNET 13 in New York. Previously he was president of Westinghouse Television and chairman of Group W Satellite Communications.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston received nine national awards during the conference.

Cardinal DiNardo extended warm congratulations to the Texas honorees, saying, "It is an honor to have Catholic educators from across the country and around the world in our Archdiocese and state. The special recognition of our local leaders is greatly appreciated." 

He added, "I am so pleased that these outstanding men and women and their schools and organizations are being recognized for their tremendous work and achievement in support of Catholic education."

Ristau added, "It took NCEA a long time to get to Texas for a convention but we certainly are leaving behind a lot of plaques and memories for many of our Texas members who are doing such excellent work in the ministry of Catholic education." 

St. Francis de Sales School (SFdS) won the Catherine T. McNamee Award, which is given for leadership in promoting Catholic education that welcomes and serves cultural and economic diversity. 

"I am thrilled that SFdS is being recognized for something that we do well... because it is the right thing to do as a Catholic school. It makes me proud to know that SFdS is a school where all types of students feel welcome, included and comfortable," school principal Diane Wooten said. "I feel that students can get a fine academic education at just about any school. But at a Catholic school, families, students and teachers can be involved in education that is enveloped in the teachings of the Gospel. This shared expectation and anticipation allows and calls all members of the school family to be kind, caring and considerate. Being part of a Catholic school is being part of an extended family. We look out for one another's well being. We have a vested interest in each other's success. We pray for one another and with each other."

Janie Hengst, principal at John Paul II Catholic School, won the Distinguished Principal Award, Elementary Schools Department.

"This award not only validates my efforts as an administrator as well as my service to God, but also emphasizes the quality of education at John Paul II Catholic School," Hengst said. "Having been involved in helping to start John Paul II 25 years ago, it has been the most amazing journey spiritually and intellectually to watch it grow from five temporary buildings with 56 students to one of the largest Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese."

Deborah Whalen, principal, St. Agnes Academy, was given the Educational Excellence Award, Secondary Schools Department.

"Personally, the recognition is a wonderful tribute to a career that I have dedicated to Catholic secondary education," Whalen said. "I feel a strong sense of vocation for Catholic education regardless of any awards or accolades, but it is always nice to be recognized for your hard work, isn't it?"
St. Anne Catholic School was awarded the Outstanding Board Award, NCEA Department of Boards and Council. 

Laura Sayavedra, St. Anne Catholic School Board president, said, "Our current school board members recognize that our accomplishment is built on the foundation of the hard work and dedication of many, many past board members through the years.

Award winners are (LEFT TO RIGHT) Deborah Whalen, principal at St. Agnes Academy; Father Tom Rafferty, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua; Nadine Mouser, principal at St. Thomas More Catholic School; Dr. Karen Ristau, NCEA President; Sister Kevina Keating, Superintendent of Catholic Schools; Daniel Cardinal DiNardo; Diane Wooten, principal at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School; Janie Hengst, principal at John Paul II Catholic School; Kathy Barnosky, principal at St. Anne Catholic School in Houston; School Board President Laura Buss Sayavedra; and Tammy Juarez, director of faith formation at St. Patrick Church in Houston. (Photo courtesy of NCEA)

"As a representative of Galveston-Houston Archdiocese schools, I appreciate the opportunity we have to highlight the thriving and innovative Catholic Schools in our region," she said. "There are exciting things happening in our Catholic schools, and it will be great to share our experiences and learn from others."

Father Thomas Rafferty, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua School in The Woodlands, was honored with the Distinguished Pastor Award, Elementary Schools Department. 

"I am very blessed with an outstanding staff and one of the best principals I have ever worked with," Father Rafferty said. "I have to give Rene (Nunez, principal) and the faculty all of the credit. What a blessing it is for me as a priest. Basically, I celebrate Mass with them, eat lunch with the kids. I'm kind of a cheerleader for what the school is doing."

Tammy Juarez of Queen of Peace Catholic Church received the Religious Education Excellence Award, Department of Religious Education. She is currently the director of faith formation at St. Patrick Church in Houston.

"(This conference) reminds you of who you are, why you are a Catholic educator," Juarez said. "We all just look at each other and realize that we are a part of something bigger than any one of us."

Other award-winning educators and organizations from Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston are:
- Dominic Madrid, teacher, St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, Sadlier Math Teacher Award;
- St. Thomas More Catholic School, Sadlier Catholic Identity Award; and
- Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Sadlier Catholic Identity Award.