Sunday, June 23, 2024

Golden Apple Recipients Reflect on Their Vocation as Diocese Honors Educators at Annual Awards Dinner

The seven Diocesan educators bestowed with the 2022 Golden Apple Award for their commitment to Catholic education were honored on May 3 during an awards dinner at the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg.

The highest recognition given by the Diocese to principals and teachers, the Golden Apple Award commends the educators’ professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching in a Catholic school.

2022 marks the 17th year for the Golden Apples program in the Diocese of Harrisburg. This year’s recipients are Lizabeth Miller of St. Joseph School in York; Michele Stager of Trinity High School in Camp Hill; Sara Wrightstone of Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School; Heather Hoffman of York Catholic High School; Katie Cole-White of St. Joan of Arc School in Hummelstown; and Nicole Martin and Terry Klugh of Lancaster Catholic High School.

During the dinner on May 3, the awardees were recognized by Bishop Ronald Gainer and Daniel Breen, Superintendent of Catholic Schools and Secretary for Education for the Diocese. Each recipient received a certificate of achievement, a $5,000 cash award, a golden apple plated in 24-carat gold and an individual photo with the bishop.

In accepting their nomination for the award, the educators shared essays reflecting on their vocations as Catholic school educators. Portions of each recipients’ essay are shared below.

Lizabeth Miller

Kindergarten, St. Joseph School in York

“I teach the curriculum, but I also teach children to see their strengths and to persevere when things are difficult. I ask my students to practice gratitude daily and to look for joy in the ordinary, to ‘give life’ to their abilities and to their faith.”

“I try every single day to be the face of Jesus for every child in my class. To smile at them and to welcome them each morning. To listen to their stories and show them that I see them. To help them know that they are truly loved by God and by me. Teaching in a Catholic school is certainly an act of love. It is loving what we do and loving who we serve.”

Michele Stager

English teacher at Trinity High School in Camp Hill

“As my oldest sons have graduated and moved out into the world, I see firsthand the way a Catholic education has shaped them into intelligent, kind, empathetic young men. I have the same goal with all of my students: I do not want them to only be good students; I want them to be good people.”

“I firmly believe the Holy Spirit being openly welcomed in a Catholic school is what makes teaching in one so rewarding. Education is about love, and not only related to academics; it is about being a real person with and for your students and helping them grow into the person God has called them to be.”

Sara Wrightstone

Fifth-grade teacher at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School

“Teaching in a Catholic school allows me to integrate my faith within the core subjects, allowing students to make connections with their faith and learning. I am also able to work alongside the parents, who are the primary educators in their children’s lives.”

“As an educator, I am able to teach the needed skills and promote curiosity through educational experiences. Over the past nine years, I have been blessed to see students grow and learn. Teaching has been rewarding and meaningful for me, because when I display their finished work, witness their enthusiasm for learning, or when the ‘light bulb’ turns on as they finally grasp a new concept, that’s my reward.”

Sara Wrightstone Fifth-grade teacher at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School
Heather Hoffman

Middle School Director at York Catholic High School

“I am so blessed to be part of the York Catholic family. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sponsor students in Confirmation, chaperone birthday parties, and attend graduation parties. I have celebrated with former students at their weddings and cried with them at the funerals of their parents and classmates. A few years ago, I was honored to become the godparent to two amazing boys whose mother is one of my former students…. I always try to be there for my students and their families.”

“God has given me so much already and He is obviously not finished with me here on earth. He has big plans for me moving forward, and I am ready for whatever He has planned.”

Heather Hoffman Middle School Director at York Catholic High School
Katie Cole-White

Pre-K teacher at St. Joan of Arc School in Hummelstown

“I love teaching about kindness, caring, bravery, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, gratitude, peace-making, diversity and grace as we learn about Jesus.”

“We do mistakes with a smile and know we are still learning; we stop and comfort each other through sadness or insecurity; we celebrate the joys and achievements of every single child. We have incorporated the most important thing into our hearts – love for one another as God has loved us. I am proud to be the start of their educational and spiritual education. I pray each child truly knows and feels the love Christ has for them through me. I constantly strive to be that instrument.”

Katie Cole-White Pre-K teacher at St. Joan of Arc School in Hummelstown
Nicole Martin

Theology teacher at Lancaster Catholic High School

“I continue to teach because this is my small way of building the Kingdom. This is my yes to God. I continue to teach because it matters. Far more than any fact memorized, or grade given, I hope my students will come to internalize that life is about relationships. We are invited to enter the Divine relationship through our baptism. My hope is that as they grow, authentic relationships will matter more and more to the students I have taught. That they recognize the gift of being made in the image and likeness of God, and this extends to everyone they will encounter. This is the birth Pope Francis speaks of. This is the birth of a peaceful and fruitful society.”

Nicole Martin Theology teacher at Lancaster Catholic High School
Terry Klugh

Principal at Lancaster Catholic High School

“I have learned leadership from the ‘ground up,’ not the ‘top down.’ Experience and grace have revealed to me that if we are to ‘Teach as Jesus did’ (and lead others to do so), then we must first start with a slight adaptation of the Golden Rule, to be the leader we want to be led by. For this to happen, listening must become a truly learned skill. I know of no better way to be truly present with someone than to be an effective listener. Listening needs to lead us to making constructive comments and giving thanks and credit to others whenever possible.”

Terry Klugh Principal at Lancaster Catholic High Schoo

The Golden Apple Awards Program was established through the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation, Inc., located in Pittsburgh. Jack and Rhodora Donahue are parents of 13 children; all were educated in Catholic schools. The Donahue’s were eager to express their deep appreciation to Catholic school teachers for providing quality academic and faith-filled education for their children. They established the awards program in Pittsburgh in 1992.

“It is an honor and a privilege to recognize these seven educators for their outstanding service to our students, our Catholic Schools and our Diocese,” Bishop Gainer said. “All of our educators have faced unprecedented difficulty because of COVID-19, yet time and again, they have met every challenge. The dedication these seven educators have shown has been witnessed by many in their respective schools and communities. It is because of this dedication and commitment to Catholic education, service and stewardship that they are being awarded. I commend each of them for a job well done.”

“The winners of the Golden Apple Awards this year are educators who lead with their faith, and who showed the tenacity during COVID to continue to focus on mission and on engaging students,” said Breen. “These educators are the standard-bearers for the selfless dedication, professionalism, and achievement of all our faculty and staff in the 35 Catholic schools in our Diocese.”

In the Diocese of Harrisburg, nearly 10,000 students are enrolled at 35 schools. High School students in the Diocese typically have a graduation rate over 98% and annually are offered more than $40 million in scholarship funds.

To learn more about the Golden Apple Awards or Catholic Education, visit

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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