Friday, June 21, 2024

Mission, Collaboration Highlight Annual Education Conference

For the second consecutive year, the Diocese’s Education Conference took on a Deanery-wide format, offering a combination of video messages and in-person sessions for educators in the Diocese’s 35 Catholic schools.

Grouped by Deanery, each of the Diocese’s six high schools served as conference host sites – a different arrangement for the event, which typically brings personnel from all schools to one site for a Diocesan-wide gathering.

At each high school, educators gathered for the celebration of Mass with their local priests, and heard video messages from Bishop Ronald Gainer; Diocesan Secretary for Education and Superintendent of Schools, Daniel Breen; and Director of the Diocesan Office of Pontifical Missions, Father Robert Sharman.

The bishop echoed the words of St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle as he greeted educators: “To touch the hearts of your students is the greatest miracle you can perform.”

“Teaching is one of the most honorable vocations one could have, especially teaching in a Catholic school. You, our teachers and administrators, are not just passing on knowledge about arithmetic, science, literature or the arts; you are passing on the Catholic faith and serving as an evangelist to our Catholic children,” he told them.

The bishop expressed his gratitude for their commitment to Catholic education and their dedication to students.

“It’s not always easy, passing on the truths of our Church, especially in a society that celebrates ideals that are in opposition to Church teachings. But we should never falter in being countercultural, in proudly proclaiming our beliefs, and in passing on this faith to our youth,” he said.

In his message to educators, Breen asked them to consider the words of Catholic educator Jonathan Doyle, author of “Tools and Fuels: How Catholic Teachers can become Saints, Beat Burnout and Save the World.”

In the book, Doyle shares: “We did not choose to be Catholic school teachers, but God chose us.”

“What if we thought that way – that God chose us for this work?” Breen posed. “If we think that way, then we know too that God has a plan for us, that He is faithful, and that His grace is sufficient. Then our part becomes cooperating with God, embracing that grace and also the tools and the approach that we need in our vocation.”

Breen also spoke of an increase in enrollment and financial aid, and briefed teachers on the actionable items now stemming from the unveiling of a strategic vision plan this past spring.

Father Sharman presented the annual Bishop’s Mission Award to Our Mother of Perpetual Help School in Ephrata. The award acknowledges the special achievements made by the elementary schools for exceptional mission awareness through prayerful and financial support.

“I offer congratulations and a big thank you to the many teachers and catechists in our schools of religious education and our Catholic schools who encourage a missionary spirit among the youth of our Diocese,” Father Sharman remarked. “Your students’ prayers and sacrifices allow children in mission lands to experience the joy of faith, the hope of the Gospel message and the love that comes from knowing the Lord’s great love for each of us.”

Throughout the day, educators broke into various sessions and small groups to listen to speakers and collaborate with their peers.

Educators were introduced to the VIRTUS Empowering God’s Children® training for all students enrolled in the Diocese’s Catholic schools and religious education classes. The training gives children and young people the tools they need to protect themselves from those who might harm them.

And, teachers were encouraged to examine and embrace the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s theme of teaching the Eucharist to students, as the Church in the United States embarks on a three-year Eucharistic Revival.

The themes of collaboration and mission echoed throughout the day, as educators shared ideas and brainstormed ways to collaborate both in the classroom and in ways to promote Catholic education.

Julia Fuhrman, a 22-year teacher at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, told The Catholic Witness that the mission of Catholic schools is particularly evident during the Education Conference.

“I looked around at all the teachers here this morning and I thought, “I have taught so many of the younger teachers. It’s wonderful to see the continuation of the mission of Catholic education as I look around and see people who have walked these halls as students,” she said.

“I do like this format of the conference because we really get to put faces to the names of the teachers in our Deanery, but I do miss the bigger conference – especially having Mass with the entirety of the Diocesan schools staff and teachers,” Fuhrman said. “There is something really moving about all of us together as one. It’s so powerful.”

“The Education Conference is a reminder that you don’t just have a job, you have a mission,” she said.

For information on Catholic schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg, visit

(Photos by Chris Heisey and Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness


Education Conference Honorees

20 Years in Education

Leslie Wilsbach, Holy Name of Jesus School, Harrisburg

Mary Jo Pronio, St. Margaret Mary School, Harrisburg

Megan Zapcic, Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, Middletown

Kathleen Weichert, York Catholic Middle and High School

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for 10 Years as a Principal

Katie Seufert, York Catholic Middle and High School


Bishop’s Mission Award

Our Mother of Perpetual Help School, Ephrata

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