The Amazing Catholic Educator Award recognizes teachers, specialists and administrators across the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) who are creating a school culture that is proudly Catholic, academically excellent, accessible to all, and sustainable for the future. Each of the ten educators exemplifies unleashing the Gospel in their school. Since 2019,  we have honored forty-five educators for their 572 combined years of faithful, inspired service to Catholic Education.

Thanks to a generous Catholic school supporter in 2024, every $1 given to the Amazing Catholic Educator fund will be matched up to $10,000!

With your help, we can grow our Amazing Catholic Educators Award fund and honor more educators. Join us and double your gift by giving an online gift today in honor of your favorite educator!

You can help us grow our Amazing Catholic Educators Award program!




2023-2024 Amazing Catholic Educators


Rachel Damuth, the principal at St. Valentine School, has served in her role for the past 15 years and stands out for her exceptional ability to foster loving relationships with all who know her. Rachel’s dedication to the school’s growth and success is remarkable, as she secures funding for essential resources through grants and fundraising efforts, ensuring that both students and teachers have the tools they need to thrive. Rachel actively listens to the needs of parents, staff, and students, implementing initiatives such as the Parents to Principal Chat, restorative practices training for staff, and the introduction of a school counselor to support students’ emotional well-being. Through her leadership, Rachel has cultivated a school environment where every member feels valued, heard, and empowered to make a difference in the lives of others, embodying the mission of St. Valentine School in all aspects of her work.

Lisa DiMercurio’s leadership at St. Lawrence School as its principal in the last seven years reflects her deep-rooted commitment to the Catholic faith and the well-being of the school community. Through her efforts, students have opportunities to deepen their faith through activities like adoration with relics, crafting Nativity scenes with Sisters, and commemorating Candlemas during Catholic Schools Week. Lisa’s compassion extends beyond the school walls, as demonstrated by her proactive support for families facing adversity. From organizing collections for medical expenses to providing emotional and academic support, she exemplifies the school’s mission to nurture a love for Jesus Christ in tangible ways.  Through her leadership and dedication, Lisa DiMercurio embodies the values of faith, compassion, and service, enriching the St. Lawrence School community and nurturing a culture of care and inclusion.

Mary Kate Becker, as a dedicated Catholic educator at Mercy High School, embodies the values of faith, leadership, and compassion. In her role as a Director of Ministry for Catholic Identity and Mission Integration, she fosters a vibrant spiritual environment, empowering young women to cultivate a deep relationship with Jesus. Mary Kate has nurtured student ministerial leaders, empowered student voices in liturgy planning, and integrated Catholic faith into all aspects of student life, including academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. She calms hearts during final exam weeks by hosting therapy dogs so students may soothe their minds and better focus on their studies. Beyond her work with students, Mary Kate leads staff spiritual retreats, reimagines grade-level retreat experiences, and provides pastoral support during challenging times. Through her dedication, Mary Kate enriches every aspect of Mercy High School life, ensuring that Catholic values and the Mercy mission are upheld to all members of the community.

Bradley Cross embodies Christ-like values in every aspect of his role as a Science teacher at Shrine Catholic School. With compassion as his guiding principle, he goes above and beyond to support his students academically and personally. In his science classes, Mr. Cross fosters a supportive learning environment where every student is motivated to participate, ensuring that no one is left behind. His commitment to building relationships based on honesty makes him approachable to both students and colleagues, who trust him with their academic and personal concerns. He constantly seeks new ways to engage students, implementing interactive notebooks, innovative lab reporting methods, and study habit routines to enhance their learning experience. His dedication to going above and beyond in all aspects of his life serves as an inspiration to his colleagues, students, and parents alike, reflecting the values of compassion, optimism, and service that we strive to instill in our school community.

Nicole Hughes has served 17 years as an educator at Bishop Foley Catholic High School and is currently the head of the science department. Nicole’s commitment to her faith is evident through her participation in programs like Fides et Ratio, reflecting her continuous growth as both a teacher and a believer. From Forensic Science to Biochemistry, she offers rigorous courses while also embracing new teaching methods and technologies. As the Director of Teacher Mentoring, Nicole’s willingness to share her expertise extends to her colleagues and she trains them on innovative approaches like the flipped classroom model and the latest technology. Outside the classroom, Nicole is a dynamic presence, initiating clubs like the Culinary Club and Broadcast Club. She also coaches the Varsity Girls Tennis team and takes on administrative roles, demonstrating her dedication to the school community’s holistic development.

Laura Ilov, a seasoned educator with 46 years of experience, epitomizes Catholic principles through her unwavering commitment to personalized student encouragement and spiritual leadership. Her dedication to unlocking each student’s potential is evident in her personalized approach, which motivates individuals to excel academically and grow spiritually. Ms Ilov’s commitment extends beyond the classroom, as she established a middle school ministry team and plays a vital role in organizing class retreats. Ms. Ilov goes the extra mile by providing material support to students in need, and personally purchasing clothing and school supplies. Her one-on-one interactions with students in the hallway, offering personalized pep talks, showcase her dedication to their personal growth. Her tireless efforts before and after school, coupled with her leadership in fostering a sense of community and excellence, make her a cornerstone of Holy Redeemer.

Joe Kalczynski, now in his twenty-first year of teaching Physics, Math, and Engineering at Brother Rice, embodies the school’s values and mission with unwavering dedication. Beginning each class with reflective devotions and prayers, Joe ensures that his teaching aligns with the gospel message, guiding students on a path of spiritual growth. Joe incorporates hands-on projects and collaborative learning to engage students, inspiring many to pursue careers in engineering and architecture. Beyond academics, Joe leads the Band of Brothers program, instilling principles of leadership and camaraderie among students through daily activities and special events. Joe’s impact extends far beyond the classroom, as he dedicates himself to the holistic development of each student, embodying the spirit of Blessed Edmund Rice, the school’s founder.

Kaelah Lesnau, a fourth-grade teacher at Our Lady of Good with seven years of service, exemplifies the feminine genius, inspiring virtue and steadfastness in those around her, particularly in raising children in the faith. Mrs. Lesnau’s passion for English Language Arts shines through her innovative approach to teaching, incorporating partnerships with the local library and organizing engaging events like March Reading Madness to instill a love for reading in her students. She goes above and beyond to ensure each student feels heard and successful, readily adapting her teaching to meet their individual needs. Beyond the classroom, Mrs. Lesnau’s leadership and vision enrich the school community, fostering a sense of belonging through initiatives like the Sunday Mass Experience. Her joyful spirit and dedication to building community leave a lasting impact on students, staff, and parents alike, making her an invaluable asset to the school.

Theresa Radich, an exceptional educator at Everest for 27 years, has profoundly impacted students’ faith development. Theresa teaches religion from Junior Kindergarten through 6th grade, ensuring a strong foundation in Catholic teachings. Her ability to connect with students of all ages, coupled with innovative teaching methods, fosters a deep love for Christ and the Catholic faith. Beyond the classroom, Theresa’s dedication to her own faith journey and her involvement in curriculum development and student mentoring and sponsorship reflect her unwavering commitment to Catholic education. Theresa serves as a resource for teachers and staff seeking guidance on matters of faith and has led numerous Bible studies and encounter groups to foster spiritual growth. Her joyful demeanor and sense of humor make her love for Christ and the Catholic faith contagious.

Patty Willoughby, the dedicated art teacher at Regina High School, exemplifies Catholic values in her teaching, leaving a lasting impact on students and the school community. With nearly 40 years of experience, she shares her passion for art, especially ceramics, inspiring students to express themselves creatively while integrating Catholic principles seamlessly into her curriculum. Patty’s commitment to inclusivity is evident in her efforts to incorporate cultural elements into projects, promoting social justice in line with Catholic teachings. Her collaborative project, the Ofrenda, showcased at the DIA, highlights her dedication to fostering cultural understanding through art. Patty’s involvement extends beyond the classroom with initiatives like a summer art camp and community service. Her kindness and positivity make her a valued member of the Regina community, embodying the essence of a compassionate Catholic educator.

Honorable Mentions:

Maria Chubb Most Holy Trinity Catholic School
Janelle Erlingis Our Lady of Victory
Anne Hull Our Lady Queen of Martyrs
Michele Sophiea St. Anselm Catholic
Samantha Mann St. Fabian School
Suzanne Walz St. Lawrence Catholic School
Kathleen M. Johnson University of Detroit Jesuit School & Academy


2022-2023 Amazing Catholic Educators

Click to Expand

Karina Lepkowski has been the principal at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit, Michigan for the past five years. “Part of our mission at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Academy is to serve the world with a joyful purpose. Karina inspires the word joyful in everything that she does. She supports the children of our community to secure a strong Catholic education, she leads by example, and you can tell that she enjoys what she does. Everyday Karina exhibits how important it is to treat each other with dignity and respect while helping the staff provide a Christ-centered education to our students.” She has collaborated with UD Jesuit and partnered with them to bring a Robotics program, has coordinated a Mathnasium and a STEM Champions Program to the students at Most Holy Trinity.  She also partnered with Beyond Basics and has been named Partner of the Year for Beyond Basics. 

Terry Zaleski is an educator at Our Lady of the Lakes School in Waterford MI. She currently teaches math, accounting and personal finance to grades 9-12. and has been teaching in the Archdiocese of Detroit for 16 years. She is devoted to carrying out the school’s Catholic Mission by sharing her faith in the classroom each day. She is described as one of the school’s most supportive teachers, often giving up her mornings, evenings, and even weekends to ensure students and parents have what they need to succeed in school and life. In addition to her classroom responsibilities, she sits on our school disciplinary committee, chairs our NHS, and hosts multiple clubs for students, mentors new staff and is always the first to raise her hand for volunteer opportunities. One of Ms. Zaleski’s students stated, “Ms. Zaleski is my favorite teacher because she teaches math in a way that anyone can understand. She also cares so much for her students and wants them to succeed”.

James Hassett is a school counselor at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in Detroit, Michigan. James  has 33 years of experience working with young adults. He has been described as a person who embodies the spirit of Cura Personalis, which means individualized attention to the needs of the other. He empowers students to tell their own stories and reminds us to be humble, to spread joy and to treat every student with dignity and care. A parent is quoted as saying “Mr. Hassett was calm, kind, compassionate, patient, encouraging, an advocate, nonjudgmental, a father figure, a brother in Christ…the most golden testimony. Mr. Hassett had won my son’s trust and respect.” Mr. Hassett is a man who always goes the extra mile on behalf of his students and the school community and fully embodies the values we hear espoused in the Gospels.

Sara Memije is a Spanish teacher at St. Mary Catholic Central High School. She leads through involvement and practices patience in opening minds through introductions to students in Latin America. Becoming involved means shepherding activities such as Homecoming, Lunch on the Lawn, Winterfest and more. It is during these events that young minds are influenced to be more to their community through her fine example and is further enhanced by the leadership she has provided to Student Council over the past three years. Christ’s love is made evident through people such as Ms. Memije.

Nicole Battista is a Spanish teacher at Brother Rice High School. According to principal Edward Okuniewski, “Nicole’s high standards for academic excellence  and Christian conduct make her an invaluable member of  Brother Rice. Her compassion for her students, and excitement for the Spanish language, shine in her daily  interactions with all of our community.” She is enthusiastic and well-liked by both students and colleagues with a consistent commitment to the highest standards of behavior and Christian conduct for her students.  Known for her attention to academic excellence, she pushes her students to reach  their potential–but does so in a fair and caring manner.  Nicole serves as a mentor for new teachers at Brother Rice, preparing her colleagues to teach in a rigorous, all-male school. 

Janel M. Coppens is the Head of School/Principal at Austin Catholic High School in Chesterfield, Michigan and  has been principal for the last 10 years. Janel created a new course for juniors/seniors that empowers them to take a stronger Christian leadership role when celebrating mass. As head of school, she collaborates with local AOD priests and Augustinian priests out of the area to organize a yearly mini-Augustinian values retreat that educates local parish communities and non-Catholics to learn more about the core values of an Augustinian school. Janel Coppens takes the time to get to know each of her students and their families on an individual basis. She also incorporates the Augustinian values when designing student’s schedules and meeting with faculty. As a coworker stated, “Janel Coppens if the epitome of Catholic love and compassion and adeptly cultivates and develops the young men and women in the Augustinian core values of Truth, Unity and Love.”

Linda Blackburn is a 4th grade teacher at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School in St. Clair Shores. With 30 years of teaching experience, she is known for never being afraid  to try a new teaching technique or implement a new strategy to reach her students. As a lifelong learner and woman of faith, she is the ultimate role model for her students, sharing stories of her own faith with her students and fellow teachers. The perfect example of a community builder, Mrs Blackburn can be found at many events outside of school and generously volunteers her time every year at the Parish Fish Fry. According to School Principal, Sr. Maria Guadalupe Hallee, “At St. Isaac Jogues, our motto is ‘Christ is Our Teacher.’ During her many years here, Linda Blackburn has inspired many–students and staff alike–with her example of following Christ as Our Teacher, and leading others to follow Him as well.” 

Tim Bolster is the 5th and 6th grade teacher at St. Patrick school in Carleton, MI. Tim is the Chairperson of the schools Strategic Planning Committee, the Director of Religious Education for the parish and chairs the Healthy Schools Program. Tim’s devotion to his Catholic faith has made him an outstanding contributor to the faith formation of the students at St. Patrick’s school. He is described as the “go to person” for spiritual advice in dealing with the day-to-day workings of Saint Patrick School. He ensures students have access to 30 minutes of adoration during their recess time and helps plan the weekly school masses and the school choir. He is described as a model of what a Catholic man should be, in his devotion to Christ, in his calm, even handed manner with each student, and in his attention to details, makes Saint Patrick School a place where the Holy Spirit dwells and works in the lives of the students.

Kate Szuba serves as principal of Our Lady of Victory Elementary School in Northville. She is a leader who helps her team find authentic ways to weave faith into their everyday lives and the lives of their students. Her school community appreciates her enthusiastic “hands on” approach, regularly meeting with families who may be searching or struggling and serving as an advocate and champion for them. As part of this “hands on” approach, she seamlessly stepped back into the classroom when the school unexpectedly lost a teacher mid-year. She places a high priority on keeping students safe, spearheading the Safety Security and Emergency Response Preparedness for the school and organizing ALICE training for the staff, CPR, and developing standard protocols for how staff and students should respond in an emergency. According to Fr. Denis “At OLV, we pray, we study, we serve, and we witness our faith. That is Kate. Kate is OLV. Truly, when you think of OLV, you think of Kate.” 

Sr. Kateri Marie Burbee is the principal at Holy Redeemer Grade School. She has been serving the school and it surrounding Hispanic community for 3 years. So much of what Sister does embraces the teachings of Christ, from  her Saturday commitment to the PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jelly) Ministry, that provides nutrition to the disadvantaged in the surrounding neighborhoods or her dedication to prayer for those needing her inspiration, Sister Kateri Maria Burbee, leads by example – listening with patience to the opinions of many and gently gaining consensus for the betterment of all. Her dedication to her faith, her prayers for those in need of prayer, her quiet embrace of The Beatitudes and exceptional leadership, make her a role model for all.

Honorable Mentions:

Annamarie Bruce – Regina High School

Jennifer Fox – Loyola High School

Kristina Knurek – Our Lady of Victory

Lauren Kowalski – Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish School

Stephanie Leonardi – Shrine Catholic Academy

Jessica Livingstone – St. Mary Catholic School- Royal Oak

Jennifer Makohn – St. Germaine Catholic School

Vanessa Mallory – St. Fabian Catholic School

Ann M. McGowan – Detroit Cristo Rey High School

Mary Murphy – Holy Redeemer


2021-2022 Amazing Catholic Educators

Click to Expand

Hannah DeRocher is a high school teacher at Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Guadalupe teaching Humanities, Literature, Latin, History, and Drama for grades 9 through 12. School Founder, Alejandra Maria Correa shares “Hannah’s love of our Lord shines forth in the classroom as she strives to bring forth this love to her students- her love of learning and dedication to the Catholic faith is an inspiration to both students and teachers alike.” Her creativity, good humor, patience, faith, and integrity, all add up to give her a truly magnetic personality, which makes her not only a personal role model on how to live the faith courageously and accept Jesus but also make her classes the highlight of her student’s school day.

Leigh Fitch is the school counselor at Our Lady of Good Counsel for all students ranging from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Leigh is actively involved in her role at OLGC and takes part in many committees and teams, including the School Leadership Team, Strategic Planning Team, School Improvement Team, Reading Action Team, and Staff Lighthouse Team. Her passion for helping children become good people and finding their own success helps OLGC students have life-changing encounters with Jesus. Melissa Hunt, OLGC school principal writes, “Not only does Mrs. Fitch know the name of every child, but can tell you a story about every child.  She is the encourager, prayer warrior, and counselor of all students, staff, and parents and is respected by our school community because of her character, dedication, and faith.”

Meagan Keane is a grade school teacher at Holy Redeemer Grade School in Detroit. She has taught second grade at Holy Redeemer for 43 years and has shared her Catholic values and principles with over 1200 students. From teaching students their first prayers to preparing them for the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, Meagan has introduced her Catholic students to Jesus, guiding them to trust in Him throughout their lives. Holy Redeemer principal, Sr Kateri Burbee, shares, “Meagan Keane has devoted her entire teaching career to serving children in Detroit.  She has taught by example, with love and consistency, paving a path for her students to achieve their personal best while developing a loving relationship with God.”

Kimberly Kerwin is a Theology teacher at St. Fabian Catholic School in Farmington Hills. She has taught in AOD schools for seventeen years and currently teaches students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Along with her role as the Theology teacher, Kimberly also stepped in as the Director of Religious Education at the parish. Assistant principal Courtney Nixon shares, “Kimberly Kerwin selflessly shares the gifts that God has given her to share Christ’s love to all that she encounters. She develops life-long relationships with families and doesn’t just preach God’s love but lives it in all that she does with passion. Her creative approaches instill a deep love and curiosity for the Catholic faith and as noted by one parent “her creative and no-nonsense yet encouraging approach has taught my kids much more than any curriculum ever could.”

Chelsea Mulrenin is a teacher at St. Germaine Catholic School of Saint Clair Shores, teaching Math and Social Studies to students in grades four through eight. Ms. Mulrenin can be found at the school on most weeks at least 6 days a week if not 7. Due to a teacher shortage, Ms. Mulrenin volunteered to take on not only her position as the 5th-grade homeroom teacher and the 4th and 5th-grade math and social studies teacher but all math for the middle school and teaches over half the school on a given day. Ms. Mulrenin is not only a dedicated educator, but she is also an assistant Athletic Director, Dream Weavers Coordinator, Student Council teacher Rep, Starbase teacher, Talent Show director, Basketball and Volleyball coach. Principal Colleen Maciejewski shares, “Chelsea Mulrenin is everything a Catholic educator should strive to be. She is compassionate, understanding, and lives the life of a disciple of Christ. Her living example helps students see Christ’s words in action and helps them want to be more.”

Cindy Pryor is an eighth grade teacher at St. Thecla Catholic School in Clinton Township. She has taught at St. Thecla for 41 years, teaching various subjects such as Religion, Literature, and English. Cindy is a shining example of being a Catholic role model and is a leader among staff and students to lead, teach, serve, and be bold in faith. She incorporates tried and true strategies and pedagogical approaches in her teaching as well as new and innovative ways to reach all learners, with varying abilities. Her reputation as an excellent teacher and exceptional, faithful servant is what previous students want for their own children and many have returned to St. Thecla. Along with her educator duties, she organizes and facilitates service opportunities such as food drives for the St. Thecla Food Pantry, toy drives at Christmas, organizes fundraising for the St. Thecla Scholarship Fund, plans special Masses such as May Crowning, Veterans’ Day Mass, etc and prays and sings with the church choir. She also runs the school forensics teams, is lead for the Eastside league, and is the director and writer for our school play each year which draws a large crowd from the St. Thecla community. Principal Dr. Dona Johnson Beach shares, “Cindy Pryor is strong in her faith and an example of Unleashing the Gospel at St. Thecla. She is committed to academic excellence. Service is her middle name with her various works of mercy.”

Gabriela Bala is the principal at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. Gabriela Bala is the principal at St. Mary Catholic School of Royal Oak, with 12 years of experience in this role. Along with her principal duties at St. Mary Catholic Schools, Gabriela is also a member of the Academic Excellence Committee, MANS Conference Committee, AOD Accreditation Chairperson, National Catholic Education Association, Partners in Mission Advancement Training.  One parent shared, “Gaby’s ability to make everyone feel safe and welcome is unparalleled. Her nurturing personality and true commitment to the school create a culture of warmth and happiness while upholding the high expectations for a school run with Catholic principles.Her dedication to her faith is always on active display, whether through her daily role as principal or her participation in liturgies at St. Mary. She uses prayer as a means to provide calm and stability to students, staff, and parents, especially during this uncertain time of schooling” 

Jeremy Clark is the principal at St. Patrick Catholic School in White Lake, Michigan.  Jeremy has been with St. Patrick for approximately 9 years and in partnership with the Parents Club and School Advisory Committee, and Parish, Jeremy has been instrumental in providing an exceptional educational experience for the St. Patrick School. Jeremy began a program at St. Patrick, “Choose Kind”, where students were encouraged to not only show acts of kindness but to report acts of kindness that the student encounters. Pastor Fr. Tom Meagher shares, “Jeremy Clark is the embodiment of our Catholic Faith. He leads by example and is dedicated to promoting faith first, excellence in education, and a commitment to our community.” School advisory committee co-chairs, Kelly Fontes & Priscilla Stephan, added, “When you observe principal shoveling snow off the cars of his staff, putting together new student desks, painting over 20 classrooms, and taking 2 weeks to teach Middle School ELA until the right candidate is found is something that most individuals in his position simply would not do. He did this quietly and with a smile on his face. The larger work and efforts certainly demand praise, but it is the smaller undertakings that we truly recognize and see the Holy Spirit working through this man.”

Ann Crowley is the principal at St. Clare of Montefalco in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Ann is dedicated to equity for all and exemplifies “educating and empowering children of all faiths.” Recognizing the diversity of St. Clare’s school population, Ann initiated the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee to create an avenue for students, parents, and teachers to share ideas that helped shape and share a safe and beautiful environment in the parish school community. Fr. Andrew Kowalczyk writes, “She embodies the Catholic values of serving those in need and fighting for justice. She has dedicated her life to educating and supporting students worldwide. She exemplifies Catholic values by demonstrating for students how to love others and treat everyone with respect. She is the “poster principal” for Unleashing the Gospel.”

Jill Geden is the principal at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Beverly Hills, Michigan. Jill has created a safe and faith-filled environment where students are encouraged to offer prayer intentions and lead through empowerment and by example. Daniella Brown, a member of the OLQM school advisory board shares, “Being a principal is Jill’s occupation, but her role is more than just making a living; she exhibits God’s way in her everyday actions as she leads our community. She is one of the most caring, hard-working, loving, and kind individuals you will ever come across, and we are proud that she is our fearless leader at OLQM. She stepped in during a moment of insecurity in our school and brought faith, character, and a passion for learning back to our children, parents, and staff. She has done a marvelous job with our staff and students despite many challenges and continues to lead.”

Honorable Mentions:

Katie Brandt –  St. Catherine of Siena Academy
Don Ciaravino – Brother Rice High School

Amy Dulgerian – Regina High School
Brian Flint – St. Mary Catholic Central High School
Daniel Geoghegan – Loyola High School
Lisa Hughes – Cabrini High School
Peter Klozik – Shrine Catholic High School and Academy
Beth McMahon – Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic School
Kathy Pawlowski – St. Clare of Montefalco
Carol Stowe – Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish School

Leah VanKlompenberg – Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic School



2020 – 2021 Amazing Catholic Educators

Click to Expand

Bethany Beyer is a high schooler teacher at Brother Rice High School in the Achieve Plus Learning Center, where students who need extra support in their academic pursuits find a peaceful and calm refuge. She has been a teacher in the AOD for four years. Principal Edward Okuniewski describes her as “the most essential teacher we have at Brother Rice.” Mr. Okuniewski shares, “Bethany Beyer is the epitome of Catholic love and compassion and adeptly cultivates and develops the whole student – in mind, body, and spirit.” Bethany instills a secure sense of belonging in her students and they leave Brother Rice as confident disciples of Christ.

Deborah Sylvester is a 2nd-grade teacher at St. Stephen School in New Boston. She has taught second grade at St. Stephen for 34 years and has helped a tremendous number of students receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. Principal Christine Vaughan describes her as someone that is “more than an amazing educator. She is outstanding in her ability to work with her students and also parents and colleagues.” Mrs. Vaughan shares, “Whether we are working on accreditation, baking apple pies or working the pierogi booth, Debbie is instrumental in the success of our school.” Deborah heads the Coat Drives and the Formula/Diaper Drives that St. Stephen provides for their Christian service and the Lincoln Park Pregnancy Center.

Mary Elizabeth White is a middle school teacher at St. Clare of Montefalco in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. She teaches Reading, English, History and Religion and has taught in AOD schools for eight years. Principal Ann Crowley describes Mary as “humble, motivating, innovative, and a fierce advocate for her students.” Ms. Crowley writes, “She encourages her students to participate in activities that challenge them. She leads forensics and sponsors many writing contests. She teaches all day and attends religious lessons for her students in the evenings, as many are making their Confirmation. She is not only an Amazing Catholic Educator but a spiritual guide too.”

Kathryn “Kitty” Farkas is a Director of Student Services at Our Lady of the Lakes for all students, ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade. She has taught in the AOD for four years. Principal Jeanine Kenny describes her as a “faith-filled example to our students through her devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Maria” Ms. Kenny shares,“Kitty’s energy and commitment outside of school hours is endless. From Oktoberfest parties, weekly fish fries to sporting events, golf outings, Homecoming and Prom, Kitty does it all.” Kitty was also instrumental in helping pilot an inclusion program at the school. Kenny shares, “Kitty recognizes that all students learn differently and she has been key in changing the culture of our school to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed.” She is an inspiration to other staff members and has kept them motivated and supported.

Anneke Houbeck is a teacher at  St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Theology for grades 9 and 12. She has taught in AOD schools for six years. Principal Judith Hehs describes her as “a beautiful witness of faithfulness to the Church” and an “excellent role model because she lives her faith with integrity.” Ms. Hehs writes, “Upon entering [her] classroom, one’s whole demeanor is transformed, to feeling peace and calm. Her goal is to bring the students into a relationship with Jesus and she is loved by students even after they have graduated.” Anneke hosts the Novi Right to Life oratory competition each March, is the sponsor of an unofficial drawing club, and also travels with students to the March for Life in DC.

Bridget Schick is a teacher at Gesu Catholic School in Detroit and teaches kindergarten. She has taught in AOD schools for 25 years. Principal Mark Friday notes that she leads by example, with creativity and dedication. Mr. Friday shares, “Bridget is skilled in assessing students’ capabilities and with her calm and consistent manner, the students respond by meeting her expectations and producing their best work. She is constantly researching the best techniques to meet the needs of her young students. During covid-19, she has made sure that no student has been left behind.”

Gregory Reichert is the principal at Everest Collegiate High School & Academy, with 11 years of experience in this role after serving thirteen years in the classroom. President Mike Nalepa writes that he is service-oriented, humble, faith-filled and most importantly a man of prayer. In his nomination, it was noted that “Greg’s common sense, work ethic, Christ-like demeanor, and ability to collaborate with and support others while maintaining professional authority is astounding.” Aside from his duties as principal, Greg also helps chaperone the school’s annual trip to the March for Life and the senior pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Melissa Hunt is the principal at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth. She has three years of experience in this role at the Archdiocese of Detroit. Guidance Counselor Leigh Fitch shares that Melissa “exudes intelligence, kindness, and willingness to do whatever it takes for her community.” She lives and breathes the tenets of the Unleash the Gospel and has helped create an environment at OLGC where academics are based on best practices and the community is a family.  The welcoming of new families at the school has continued during the pandemic in part thanks to “the charism of Melissa’s radical hospitality and love for sharing our Lord with others.”

Ann Diamond is the principal at Regina High School in Warren. She has 9 years of experience as a principal in the Archdiocese of Detroit. President Mary Treder Lang describes her as someone who “embraces her Catholic identity fully, believes in the dignity of all people and has taken initiative to bring ongoing diversity and inclusion training to our school.” Mary shares in her nomination, “Ann believes it is critical to stand in solidarity to promote the life and dignity of each person” and that she values listening and transparency. She has excellent communication skills and serves as a confident leader to Regina students. Thanks to her leadership and initiative, students at Regina are now also able to grow spiritually through the Kairos retreats. She “works tirelessly to promote a welcoming, lively and safe environment not just for students but also for faculty, staff and all families in the community.”

Joseph Zmikly is the principal at St. Joseph School in Lake Orion.  Joseph has five years of experience as a principal in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Fr. James Francis Kean describes Joseph as having a “strong collaborative leadership style” and has been very active in implementing new, vibrant programming at the school such as introducing “Blackbaud, a new phonics program, a new reading instruction initiative, Dynamic Catholic curriculum for sacramental prep, along with a new academic support/intervention program for struggling students.” He is “well known in the community for the quality of his character” and is considered a leader by many other public school districts in the area.

Honorable Mentions:

Ashley Ackerman – Regina High School
Theresa Blevins – St. Hugo
Kristin Galui – Immaculate Conception
Angela Rochow – Our Lady of Good Counsel
Erika Zwolinksi – Shrine Catholic Grade School
Elizabeth Allard – St. Isaac Jogues
Nancy Masuda –  St. Mary Catholic Central High School
Michelle Shawver – Shrine Catholic Grade School
Kerry Vlahantones = Our Lady Star of the Sea
Kelly Walter – St. Joseph
Eva Mutschler – Shrine Catholic High School & Academy
Julia Mazanka – Shrine Catholic High School and Academy

2019 – 2020 Amazing Catholic Educators

Click to Expand


The Amazing Catholic Educator Award recognizes teachers and specialists within the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) Catholic schools who are creating a school culture that is proudly Catholic, academically excellent, accessible to all, and sustainable for the future. Each of the five educators exemplifies unleashing the Gospel in their school.We are pleased to introduce you to the 2019 Amazing Catholic Educator award winners. Please help us celebrate these amazing educators for their (99 combined!) years of faithful, inspired service to AOD schools:

Karen Fabian is a teacher at Shrine Catholic Grade School for 3rd grade English/Language Arts, math and science. She has been a teacher in the AOD for 20 years. Principal Jennifer Bero describes her as “enthusiastic, energetic and caring.” Ms. Bero shared in her nomination, “Karen integrates her Catholic faith into everything she teaches. Karen expects the best from all of her students while also meeting each child where he/she is at. She differentiates her lessons and makes the students eager to learn more. We have some families who struggle with helping their children at home and Karen helps to bridge this gap, making Shrine their home.”

Kathryn Gross is a teacher at Loyola High School Detroit in 9th grade culinary arts and 10th grade biology. She has taught in AOD schools for 25 years. Principal Wyatt Jones, III describes her as “dedicated, nurturing and reliable.” Mr. Jones shared in his nomination, “Kathy brings the same energy, passion and Christian love to this, her 22nd year at Loyola as she did in her first year of serving our mission in 1998. Working with underserved and marginalized students has been her calling. Recognizing the vast talent of the student body, Kathy formed a debate team eight years ago and has coached the team to six State Championships and four League Championships.”

Timothy Magg is a teacher at St. Mary Catholic Central High School (SMCC) in 12th grade theology and serves as campus minister. He has taught at SMCC for 22 years. Principal Jason Linster describes Tim as “compassionate, faithful and engaging.” Mr. Linster wrote in his nomination, “Tim is a faithful Catholic who spreads our faith among the students, staff and parents. He has taught on every grade level and has implemented a Christian service program, managed and grown three student service trips to Kentucky and Guatemala, instructs seniors on how to be faith leaders, and has counseled students through personal problems, crises of faith, and walked with students through the process of joining our Church. He runs a retreat program that is mentioned by graduates as among the most important moments of their four years of high school.”

MaryBeth Nicholas is a teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) for 4-6th grade science and has taught in the AOD for 25 years, 20 of those at OLGC. Principal Melissa Hunt describes her as “faith-filled, giving and joyful.” Ms. Hunt shared in her nomination, “MaryBeth strives to make learning enjoyable and attainable for all students by relating topics to real life, blending them with faith and incorporating hands-on activities. Using her charisms for intercessory prayer and mercy, she has shown her giving heart by sleeping outside to raise money for the homeless. She is an inspiration to other staff members through her hard work and willingness to lend a helping hand.”


Zoe-Ann Waters is a teacher at St. Isaac Jogues in English/Language Arts for grades 6-8.  She has taught in AOD schools for 7 years. Principal Sr. Catherine Marie Compton describes her as “passionate, dedicated and compassionate.” Sr. Compton wrote in her nomination, “Zoe-Ann supports new staff and helped develop our mentor program for new teachers; she builds school identity within and outside her classroom (she is leading our accreditation); and she is always looking for new ways to integrate her Catholic faith in her lessons and novels. She meets every child where they are at to help each one grow and succeed. She imparts to her students both a strong confidence in expressing themselves, and a deep wonder of the world around them.”