Catholic school teachers were celebrated as superheroes during the 10thannual Golden Apple Awards Dinner, held May 10 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

Father Kevin Regan, the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Hillcrest Heights, noted how he and many others have recently “been flocking to see superhero movies” that both involve individual superheroes and groups of superheroes.

“Every time I walk through the halls of Catholic schools, I am surrounded by superheroes,” he said. “We came to honor many superheroes tonight with this Golden Apple Award.”

Each year, 10 teachers from the Archdiocese of Washington are selected to receive the prestigious Golden Apple Award for their dedication to Catholic education. All together, the 10 teachers selected this year have spent 150 years as Catholic educators.

Father Regan asked those 10 teachers to stand up and have “a small sip of the nectar of a Golden Apple,” because, “While they receive this award tonight, they need power to be back in the classroom tomorrow.”

The “nectar” was actually an imported Japanese soda, but Father Regan said they all know that it is “not a sip of soda with sugar in it that gives them their power, but it is really the grace of God.”

The awards dinner featured a video of the teachers, students and colleagues discussing their contributions to Catholic education. Each teacher was then invited to the stage to receive his or her Golden Apple Award, along with a check for $5,000. These awards are made possible through the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation.

In her welcoming remarks, Jem Sullivan, the Secretary for Education for the Archdiocese of Washington, noted the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to Washington, when he said Catholic schools are first and foremost “a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth…In this way those who meet Him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true.”

“This is the heart of what we do in Catholic education,” said Sullivan. “Catholic schools are places where Jesus is present to transform the hearts of students so they can become the next generation of leaders in society and the next generation of saints of the Church.”… Teachers make this life-giving encounter possible.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl noted that the upcoming Sunday, the Church would celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when Jesus returned to His Father in Heaven. Before doing so, Jesus told his apostles, “You will be my witnesses,” the cardinal said.

“That was directed to all of us,” he added. “We are responsible. It is our turn to share the story of Jesus.”

Out of that call came Catholic education, Cardinal Wuerl said, noting that, “Catholic education is nothing less than telling the story of Jesus.” 

When Pope Francis visited the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, he told the sisters to see the face of Jesus in the elderly whom they serve. Likewise, Catholic school teachers try to see the face of Jesus in the kids that they teach, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Wuerl said that since the beginning of the Church, the work of one generation telling the next about Jesus has taken place, and “our schools are the best way to do it because we have children in the presence of teachers, here tonight, who show what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.” 

Accepting the award on behalf of all of the teachers, Wendy Slay, a fourth grade teacher at St. Mary’s School in Bryantown, said, “We are proud to be Catholic educators and contribute to the growth of the Church by sharing our faith through our work.”

Slay noted that with the addition of these 10 teachers, 100 teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington will have received the gift of a Golden Apple Award throughout the past decade.

“Teaching in a Catholic school is itself a great gift,” she said. “What a joy to proclaim every day that Jesus Christ is Lord and to share that truth with our students and their families.”

Slay noted that Catholic schools teach academics, stewardship, service and leadership, but said their greatest work “is to share the love of Christ and spread His Gospel message.”

“Being a Catholic school teacher is mission work,” she said. “It is more than a profession – it is a vocation.”

With this work come challenges, which she said requires teachers to know that God is with them.

“Catholic school teachers are at our best when we rely on Jesus, the Master teacher, bearing in mind that our work is His work, done through us –His hands and feet,” said Slay. “Each day, we ask for His strength and guidance, wisdom and discernment to do His will, and be the vessels through whom He works.”

In addition to Slay, the other 2018 Golden Apple Award winning teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington include Paul O'Brien, a theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville; Louisa Dwyer, a sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville; Paula Farina, the music teacher at St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie; Lauren Wisniewski, a special education and resource teacher at Holy Redeemer School in College Park; Mary Hay, who teaches third grade religion and is a resource teacher at St. Philip the Apostle School in Camp Springs; Jennifer Whelan, a math and science teacher at St. Columba School in Oxon Hill; Kelly Nichols, a second grade teacher at St. Peter School, Olney; Jacquelyn Wolfgram, the first grade teacher at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville; and Thomas Kolar, a religion teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney.