Catholic Foundation of Michigan honors 10 ‘Amazing Catholic Educators’ for 2023

This year's "Amazing Catholic Educators," honored by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, include (top row, from left) Karina Lepkowski, principal of Most Holy Trinity School, Detroit; Terry Zaleski, teacher at Our Lady of the Lakes School, Waterford; James Hassett, counselor at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, Detroit; Sara Memije, Spanish teacher, St. Mary Catholic Central High School, Monroe; Nicole Battista, Spanish teacher at Brother Rice High School, Bloomfield Hills; (bottom row, from left) Janel M. Coppens, principal and head of school at Austin Catholic High School, Chesterfield Township; Linda Blackburn, fourth-grade teacher at St. Isaac Jogues School, St. Clair Shores; Tim Bolster, fifth-grade teacher at St. Patrick School, Carleton; Kate Szuba, principal of Our Lady of Victory School, Northville; and Sr. Kateri Marie Burbee, SOLT, principal of Holy Redeemer School, Detroit. (Courtesy photos)

Teachers, principals and administrators who make a difference in their communities honored with fourth annual recognition

DETROIT — For the fourth time, the Catholic Foundation of Michigan honored 10 Catholic school teachers, principals and administrators across the Archdiocese of Detroit with its annual “Amazing Catholic Educators” award.

Since 2019, the foundation has honored 35 educators with 482 combined years of service to Catholic education. Each educator honored also received a $1,000 grant.

“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,” an announcement from the foundation said. “Each of the 10 educators exemplifies unleashing the Gospel in their school.”

Donors can support the Amazing Catholic Educators Award fund by visiting the foundation’s website. This year, an anonymous supporter will match $1 given to the fund up to $10,000.

This year’s award winners include:

Karina Lepkowski, principal of Most Holy Trinity School, Detroit

“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,” a nominating entry for Lepkowski said. “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.”

Lepkowski has led the Corktown Catholic school for the past five years.

In addition to supporting students in their studies, Lepkowski has spearheaded collaboration with nearby University of Detroit-Jesuit High School to bring a robotics program to the school, and championed Mathnasium, STEM Champions and Beyond Basics programs at the school.

Terry Zaleski, teacher at Our Lady of the Lakes School, Waterford

A teacher in the Archdiocese of Detroit for 16 years, Zaleski “is devoted to carrying out the school’s Catholic Mission by sharing her faith in the classroom each day,” a nominator said. “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.”

Zaleski teachers math, accounting and personal finance at Our Lady of the Lakes High School. She also is a member of the school’s disciplinary committee, chairs the National Honor Society, and volunteers to host various clubs and school activities.

James Hassett, counselor at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, Detroit

With 33 years of experience, Hassett is “a person who embodies the spirit of Cura Personalis, which means individualized attention to the needs of the other,” a nominating entry said. “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.”

As a mentor to students, Hassett often “goes the extra mile on behalf of his students” and is described as a “calm, kind, compassionate, patient, encouraging” counselor, as well as a “father figure” and a “brother in Christ,” a U of D Jesuit parent said.

Sara Memije, Spanish teacher, St. Mary Catholic Central High School, Monroe

Memije “leads through involvement and practices patience in opening minds through introductions to students in Latin America,” the nominator said.

Beyond her expertise and experience in the classroom, Memije leads school efforts including 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,” the nominator said. “Christ’s love is made evident through people such as Ms. Memije.”

Nicole Battista, Spanish teacher, Brother Rice High School, Bloomfield Hills

Battista 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,” the nominator said. “Known for her attention to academic excellence, she pushes her students to reach their potential — but does so in a fair and caring manner.”

Brother Rice principal Edward Okuniewski lauded Battista’s “high standards for academic excellence and Christian conduct,” noting she also serves as a mentor for new teachers at Brother Rice.

Janel M. Coppens, principal and head of school at Austin Catholic High School, Chesterfield Township

Coppens has led Austin Catholic High School for the past 10 years, spearheading the growth of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s newest Catholic high 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,” a nominator said.

Coppens also created a new course for juniors and seniors that encourages them to get involved in the celebration of school Masses, and often collaborates with local priests and Augustinians from outside the archdiocese to coordinate annual retreats focused on the school’s Augustinian values.

Linda Blackburn, fourth-grade teacher at St. Isaac Jogues School, St. Clair Shores

With 30 years of teaching experience, Blackburn “is known for never being afraid to try a new teaching technique or implement a new strategy to reach her students,” a nominator said. “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.”

Outside of the classroom, Blackburn often volunteers during St. Isaac Jogues Parish events, including the annual fish fry.

“At St. Isaac Jogues, our motto is ‘Christ is Our Teacher,’” St. Isaac Jogues principal Sr. Maria Guadalupe Hallee, OP, said. “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, fifth-grade teacher at St. Patrick School, Carleton

As head of St. Patrick’s strategic planning committee, director of religious education and chairman of the school’s Healthy Schools Program, Bolster is described as the “go-to” person for spiritual and day-to-day advice at the school.

“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,” a nominator said. “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, principal of Our Lady of Victory School, Northville

As a leader, Szuba “helps her team find authentic ways to weave faith into their everyday lives and the lives of their students,” the nominating entry said.

Szuba’s “hands on” approach includes regular meetings with families, and even stepping back into the classroom herself when needed — such as when Our Lady of Victory unexpectedly lost a teacher mid-year. Szuba also places a high priority of student safety, coordinating emergency plans, ALICE and CPR training for staff, and developing safety protocols.

“At OLV, we pray, we study, we serve, and we witness our faith. That is Kate,” said Fr. Denis Theroux of Our Lady of Victory Parish. “Kate is OLV. Truly, when you think of OLV, you think of Kate.”

Sr. Kateri Marie Burbee, SOLT, principal of Holy Redeemer School, Detroit

As a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), Sr. Burbee has been serving the Hispanic community at Holy Redeemer for the past three 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,” Sr. Burbee leads by example, a nominator said.

As principal, Sr. Burbee practices daily “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

In addition to the 10 educators above, the Catholic Foundation of Michigan honored 10 additional educators as “honorable mentions.”

  • • Annamarie Bruce – Regina High School, Warren
  • • Jennifer Fox – Loyola High School, Detroit
  • • Kristina Knurek – Our Lady of Victory School, Northville
  • • Lauren Kowalski – Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Plymouth
  • • Stephanie Leonardi – Shrine Catholic Academy, Royal Oak
  • • Jessica Livingstone – St. Mary School, Royal Oak
  • • Jennifer Makohn – St. Germaine School, St. Clair Shores
  • • Vanessa Mallory – St. Fabian School, Farmington Hills
  • • Ann M. McGowan – Detroit Cristo Rey High School, Detroit
  • • Mary Murphy – Holy Redeemer School, Detroit

Amazing Catholic Educators Fund

To donate to the Amazing Catholic Educators Fund, visit the website of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan. This year, an anonymous supporter will match $1 given to the fund up to $10,000.



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