Here is a superb witness from the winner of the Fr. Joseph McGee Award for an outstanding Catholic educator, Kathleen M. Willenbrink. Ms. Willenbrink, who teaches at St. Leonard School, received this award at the annual Salute to Catholic School Alumni Dinner. With such fine teachers, our Catholic schools are in great hands:
Thank you very much for this privilege to be here tonight to receive the Fr. Joseph McGee Award.
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Kurtz, I am truly blessed and humbled to be recognized by you. Fellow honorees, I am grateful to share this evening with you, and I congratulate you on your awards also.
Back in January, I was able to participate in the Catholic Schools Week liturgy, which is a celebration of all the wonderful things Catholic Schools accomplish. I was able to hear Archbishop Kurtz’s homily about the mentors in his life. The Archbishop challenged all of us, younger and older, to become a mentor in someone else’s life. His challenge was very powerful to me. This made me think of the many mentors that I have been blessed with in my life.
My parents, Jean and Frank Johnson – my first teachers – instilled the importance of faith, family, and education in me. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me such a great life. Tony, Jackie, Janice, and I will always value your time given to us and the many sacrifices you both made to give us a Catholic education in grade school and high school, and even into college. During these formative years, you both were our mentors – thank you!
Then, I met the strongest mentor in my life, my husband Chuck, and we have tried to instill these same values that we learned from our families onto our children: the importance of our faith, family, time, and education. Zach, Caitlin, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Jessica – thank you for believing in me, especially when I may not have believed in myself. I appreciate you being my mentors and being so supporting through our lives together. Thank you!
I have always greatly valued my ability to pray in my classroom and school and to share my faith with my children and colleagues. But I do not teach alone. We – all schools – work together in our dedication to teaching children. I have many mentors at my St. Leonard Parish Community. Our school and parish are both strong and vibrant due to many mentors like Mary (our principal), Lacy (our guidance counselor), our technology teacher Joe, and our marketing director Laura, all my fellow teachers and staff, Father BJ, and very supportive parishioners. We all work together to achieve the best for our students and to make them feel loved, valued, and successful. Thank you for being mentors in my life and in the lives of so many others.
I never thought of myself as a mentor – I thought of myself as a teacher, but not a mentor. But with Archbishop Kurtz’s challenge, I started really thinking about my 37 years of teaching. Teaching is the most powerful mentoring position ever, and it has given me many gifts. These perks, or more professionally called “mentoring moments,” are very powerful, knowing that you have touched someone’s life in a small way.
All teachers have been gifted with these moments:
- A parent saying, “thank you for teaching my five children.”
- An eighth grader remembering our third grade classroom rules.
- A sixth grader recalling the fun of prayer partners and cooking green eggs and ham.
- Receiving an invitation to the college graduation of a student you taught in kindergarten.
- A thank you note from a parent of a graduating high school student who says “thanks” for helping his son so many years ago.
- An email from a former student who said “thank you” for helping her want to become a teacher and who has been teaching for 12 year
- A newer colleague asking you to share your teaching knowledge and advice.
Probably the greatest mentoring moment is when one of your past students entrusts you with teaching his or her own son or daughter.
Teachers, we are all mentors. We will all continue to have these special mentoring moments in our lives. Ours is a profession whose impact is beyond measure. Through our teaching and mentoring actions, we can be examples of Christ every day, of the Christ that is our most powerful and greatest teacher and mentor.
So, in closing, thank you, Archbishop Kurtz, Catholic Education Foundation, the Archdiocese of Louisville for believing in us teachers, supporting us teachers, and giving us the opportunities to witness many mentoring moments. We have all made a difference in a child’s life. I am honored and humbled to be receiving this award. Thank you!