Published September 17, 2009
Catholic educators from around the Archdiocese of Atlanta gathered at St. Pius X High School Sept. 8 for the third annual Office of Catholic Schools employee recognition Mass and in-service, which honored educators reaching milestones in their careers this year.
More than 140 employees were honored for nearly 1,600 years of combined service. The milestones recognized ranged from five years to 40 years.
Among those honored at the Mass were Janet Marsden of St. Pius, who has served Catholic schools for 40 years; Tony Stephens and Beth Thompson of St. Pius, who have served for 35 years; Mary Jean Griffin of St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville, who has served for 30 years; and Teresa Khan of St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw and Frances Chapman of St. Joseph School in Athens, who have each worked in Catholic education for 25 years.
Brother Loughlan Sofield, a Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity, in a keynote address spoke on “Building Christian Community in a Catholic School” and encouraged teachers to live out fully their role as witnesses to the faith.
The religious brother, an educator and author in the field of collaboration and community, is currently the senior editor of Human Development magazine, which is published for people involved in fostering others’ growth, including parents, teachers and coaches.
“Jesus was an educator. … Your ministry is the ministry of Jesus Christ,” he told the lively group, adding that they must model the values they want to teach.
Brother Loughlan gave the educators a list of things that transform communities into centers of Christian love and fellowship. Among these were teachers that are full of life. This is very important for the success of the students and the school, he said.
“I want you to stay full of life,” he exclaimed, noting that it is much easier at the beginning of the school year than at the end.
In order to do this, one must avoid burnout, Brother Loughlan said. The easiest way to do this is to recognize the telltale signs of burnout. These include unrealistic expectations, becoming physically and emotionally tired and a general feeling of disappointment.
It is important for educators to recognize these signs in their own lives and also to help their fellow educators out of burnout or depression, he said. By modeling compassion, they can help each other and their students.
“We live in a world where we are too busy telling people what’s wrong with them rather than telling of the beauty within,” Brother Loughlan said.
The remainder of the speaker’s time was focused on the topics of forgiveness, gifts and anger, identifying healthy ways to express these and how to recognize when they are being helpful or hurtful.
The day was designed to give the teachers, principals and administrators time to hear the speaker, reflect on their own and visit with others working in North Georgia Catholic schools. The presentation was divided into two sessions, with a generous lunch break to allow for discussion.
“The in-service was excellent,” said Griffin, the assistant principal at St. John the Evangelist School. “What better way to begin than with Mass. The recognition ceremony was beautiful and we could see such dedication to the ministry of Catholic education in the faces of all who were recognized.”
Diane Powell, a first-grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Athens, who was recognized on her five-year anniversary, said, “I felt proud to be an educator in such a fine system.”
Mary Jean Griffin
St. John the Evengelist School, Hapeville
“I did not actually choose to be an educator. It had to be God’s plan,” Mary Jean Griffin said of her vocation to work in Catholic education.
Honored for 30 years of dedication to Catholic schools, she has served in many roles, from art teacher to resource and enrichment teacher and now assistant principal.
During her college career, Griffin changed her major from psychology to education because classes in the former subject were not “ringing her chimes.”
“I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know Catholic schools existed; I thought there were only public schools and private schools. However, I married a Catholic, and he introduced me to Catholic schools,” she said.
Her years of service at St. John the Evangelist have not been consecutive. She took time off when she had each of her four children, but she feels grateful to the Hapeville school for finding a place for her whenever she wanted to return. During her tenure, she has seen many changes in the school and parish, including when the school transitioned, as so many have, from religious to lay leadership.
“I saw the Sisters of Mercy former principals extend their hands and bestow a blessing upon our first lay principal,” she recalled.
Griffin said she felt truly appreciated at the recognition day.
“I also felt immense gratitude and I gave thanks to God for the opportunity to serve in one place,” she said.
St. Joseph School, Athens
Diane Powell is both a teacher and a learner. While her title might be first-grade teacher, she is convinced that she is still learning new things.
“Each day brings new experiences for the children and the teacher. I learn as much from my children as they do from me,” she said.
Powell, who was recognized for five years of service, has been at St. Joseph School in Athens since 2004 and the in-service event gave her the chance to reflect on what brought her to this field.
“I enjoy children. I could never sit behind a desk all day,” she said of her decision to enter the field of teaching. “When you teach, you have to be flexible.”
She had some teaching experience in the late 1970s, but chose to take a break while she raised her young children. Powell is delighted to be back in the classroom and offered some advice to those who are just getting started.
“I would tell (new teachers) what a privilege it is to teach in a Catholic school,” she said. “It is so wonderful to be able to talk about our heavenly Father in the classroom setting. It is an honor to be able to take our children to Mass each week for worship.”
“Our school has a wonderful sense of community,” she added. “We have had some lovely families move away and more lovely families join us. It continues to be a joy to teach at St. Joseph’s.”