Archdiocese honors leaders with Heart of the School awards

By Chicago Catholic
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Archdiocese of Chicago honored 18 teachers, administrators and staff members from its 209 Catholic schools with the 2019 Heart of the School Award. The winners, who represent Catholic elementary and high schools across the archdiocese, were selected from 500 nominees based on their outstanding contributions to the schools and the students they serve.

The archdiocese also honored three pastors this year with Heart of the Shepherd awards for their commitment to Catholic education.

The awards encompass nine areas, with two nominees selected for each award.

Heart of Christ: Recipients are outstanding examples of Christian service, love and compassion. Through both work and witness, they live out our Catholic mission every day.

Joanne Gaus, second grade teacher, St. Richard, 5025 S. Kenneth Ave.

Nancy Gasser, teacher aide, St. Alexander, Palos Heights

Heart of Connection: Recipients recognize that the school is part of a greater community, and actively seek to build connections between the community and the school. Through successful outreach to parishes, universities and/or other organizations, awardees consistently leverage outside resources to support the school and, in turn, enable the school to benefit the surrounding community.

Meaghan Waterous, fifth grade teacher, St. Cajetan, 2447 W. 112th St.

Michael Bruno, director of marketing and development, St. Alphonsus St. Patrick, Lemont

Heart of Enrichment: Catholic schools seek to teach the “whole child,” providing each student with enrichment opportunities beyond the core subjects. This award recognizes school employees who excel at providing instruction and activities in one or more enrichment areas, such as  art, music, foreign language and physical education.

Pamela Vlcek, art and Spanish teacher, St. Louise de Marillac, La Grange Park

Calvin Andre, science teacher, St. Hilary, 5614 N. Fairfield Ave.

Heart of Excellence: This award is given to teachers who foster the highest quality teaching and learning in their classrooms. Through rigorous 21st-century instruction, awardees demonstrate an ability to motivate each student to reach his or her greatest academic potential.

Jackie Lagoni, kindergarten teacher, Bridgeport Catholic Academy, 3700 S. Lowe Ave.

Sean Eshaghy, junior high teacher, St. Josaphat, 2245 N. Southport Ave.

Heart of Inclusion: Christ calls us to welcome all who come to us. This award is given to teachers, staff members and administrators who foster inclusion in education by welcoming and serving all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background or the presence of defined learning needs.

Claudia Leszczewicz, second grade teacher, Pope John Paul II, 4325 S. Richmond St.

Patricia Caine, director of student services, Regina Dominican High School, Wilmette

Heart of Innovation: Excellent educators are willing to innovate, infusing their work with the latest teaching practices and instructional technology. Recipients reflect the ability to serve students successfully through adaptation and innovation.

Janet Crosswhite, junior high science teacher, St. Luke, River Forest

Sarah Vaughn, academic technology coordinator, Frances Xavier Warde, 120 S. Desplaines St.

Heart of Leadership: Recipients demonstrate leadership in their school through mentoring, inspiring others and setting a clear vision. Awardees are not necessarily school administrators, but rather leaders who constantly motivate the school toward excellence, faith and service.

Jon Priest, assistant principal, Our Lady of Charity, Cicero

Nancy Makowski, assistant principal, St. Michael, Orland Park

Heart of Service: This award recognizes individuals who provide excellent support to the school community. Often not “front and center,” awardees work behind the scenes to ensure the school successfully meets the mission of service to God’s children.

Kathy Ostrowski, administrative assistant, St. Daniel the Prophet School, 5337 S. Natoma Ave.

Alida Wallace, marketing and development director, St. Ailbe, 9037 S. Harper Ave.

Heart of the Future: This award recognizes employees who have worked in education for three years or less and demonstrate excellence, leadership and service. Awardees are people who inspire those around them with their enthusiasm and support of our educational mission.

Louis Karagiannes, information technology director, St. Benedict Preparatory School, 3900 N. Leavitt St.

Mary Jo Elsey, kindergarten teacher, St. Mary School, Buffalo Grove

Heart of the Shepherd: Leadership is essential to the success of any Catholic school. Schools benefit from the involvement and dedication of the local parish pastor. The Heart of the Shepherd Award is given to pastors who exemplify strong leadership and school support.

Award winners are relentless advocates for their Catholic schools, and work to ensure the school’s religious mission is vibrant and intentional. These pastors are physically present at the school, building relationship with students, parents, and staff members, working in tandem with the local principal.

Most important, awardees are genuine reflections of the Catholic values represented by the school; through their passion, dedication and care, they serve as exemplary role models for the school community.

Father Jose Murcia Abellan, pastor, Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, 7114 S. Hamlin Ave.

Father Francis Bitterman, pastor, St. Josaphat Parish, 2311 N. Southport Ave.

Father Ryszard Gron, pastor, St. William Parish, 2600 N. Sayre Ave.


  • catholic schools
  • heart of the school

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