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Archdiocese of Chicago Announces Winners of the 2019 Heart of the School Awards

Eighteen teachers, administrators and staff members were selected from 500 nominees; three pastors also recognized with awards this year

Chicago, IL (May 9, 2019) – The Archdiocese of Chicago is proud to announce that 18 teachers, administrators and staff members from across its 209 Catholic schools were selected as the 2019 Heart of the School Award winners. The winners, who represent Catholic elementary and high schools across the two-county archdiocese, were selected from 500 nominees based on their outstanding contributions to the schools and the students they serve. Additionally, the Archdiocese of Chicago is honoring three pastors this year with Heart of the Shepherd awards for their commitment to Catholic education.

“I want to congratulate our Heart of the School Award winners and thank them for their outstanding dedication to our Catholic schools,” said Dr. Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Chicago. “They work tirelessly with their wonderful colleagues to provide our students with a superior education grounded in faith.”

The 2019 Heart of the School Award Winners

The archdiocese’s Heart of the School Awards encompass nine award areas, with two nominees selected for each award.

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

Award Winners:

  • Joanne Gaus, second-grade teacher, St. Richard School (Chicago)
  • Nancy Gasser, teacher aide, St. Alexander School (Palos Heights)

Heart of Connection: Recipients of this award 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. 

Award Winners:

  • Meaghan Waterous, fifth-grade teacher, St. Cajetan School (Chicago)
  • Michael Bruno, director of marketing and development, St. Alphonsus St. Patrick School (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 area (e.g. art, music, foreign language, physical education, etc.).  

Award Winners:

  • Pamela Vlcek, art and Spanish teacher, St. Louise de Marillac School (La Grange Park)
  • Calvin Andre, science teacher, St. Hilary School (Chicago)

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.

Award Winners:

  • Jackie Lagoni, kindergarten teacher, Bridgeport Catholic Academy (Chicago)
  • Sean Eshaghy, junior high teacher, St. Josaphat School (Chicago) 

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. 

Award Winners:

  • Claudia Leszczewicz, second-grade teacher, Pope John Paul II School (Chicago)
  • Dr. 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 of this award reflect the ability to serve students successfully through adaptation and innovation. 

Award Winners:

  • Janet Crosswhite, junior high science teacher, St. Luke School (River Forest)
  • Sarah Vaughn, Academic Technology coordinator, The Frances Xavier Warde School (Chicago)

Heart of Leadership: Recipients of this award 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 towards excellence, faith and service. 

Award Winners:

  • Jon Priest, assistant principal, Our Lady of Charity School (Cicero)
  • Nancy Makowski, assistant principal, St. Michael School (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. 

Award Winners:

  • Kathy Ostrowski, administrative assistant, St. Daniel the Prophet School (Chicago)
  • Alida Wallace, marketing and development director, St. Ailbe School (Chicago)

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

Award Winners:

  • Louis Karagiannes, information technology director, St. Benedict Preparatory School (Chicago)
  • Mary Jo Elsey, kindergarten teacher, St. Mary School (Buffalo Grove)

The 2019 Pastor Award Winners

Heart of the Shepherd: Leadership is essential in the success of any Catholic school. Our schools benefit from the involvement and dedication of the local parish pastor. The Heart of the Shepherd Award is given to school pastors who exemplify strong leadership and school support. Award winners are relentless advocates for their Catholic school, 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 importantly, 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.

Award Winners:

  • Rev. Jose Murcia Abellan, pastor, Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish (Chicago)
  • Rev. Francis Bitterman, pastor, St. Josaphat Parish (Chicago)
  • Rev. Ryszard Gron, pastor, St. William Parish (Chicago)

The Archdiocese will honor the awardees during a celebration on Thursday, May 9 at 11:30 a.m. at Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse, 2105 S. Spring Rd., Oak Brook. Winners will be joined by their school colleagues, as well as family and friends, at the celebration.