St. Regis, St. Catherine educators honored as archdiocese’s 2020 ‘teachers of the year’

Students learn in class at Our Lady of Sorrows School in Farmington in December 2018. The Archdiocese of Detroit recently announced the winners of its 2020 Bishop John M. Quinn Teachers of the Year awards: Joni Kase of St. Regis School in Bloomfield Hills, and Barbara Kirwan of St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom. (Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Recipients of Bishop John M. Quinn awards set high bar for innovation, service during unusual school year; 51 others honored for excellence

DETROIT — When the Archdiocese of Detroit announced the recipients for both its Excellence in Teaching Awards as well as the 2020 winners of the Bishop John M. Quinn Teacher of the Year Awards for both elementary and secondary school, there wasn't the usual pomp and circumstance.

But the honors mean just as much to the teachers who received them.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the usual end-of-year banquet for students, teachers and athletes from the Catholic High School League, but the award winners were announced via video and honored virtually by archdiocesan superintendent Kevin Kijewski and CHSL director Vic Michaels. 

While parents have given educators across the archdiocese high honors for their hard work during an extremely unusual school year, the winners of the Bishop Quinn awards deserve special recognition not just for their efforts this year, but for their track record of dedication and service, Kijewski said.

Bishop John M. Quinn Elementary Teacher of the Year: Joni Kase, St. Regis Catholic School, Bloomfield Hills

Joni Kase teaches her students remotely. Kase, the recipient of the Bishop John M. Quinn Elementary Teacher of the Year Award, told Detroit Catholic she can’t wait to return to the classroom and see her students. (Courtesy of St. Regis School)

Joni Kase teaches fifth-grade science and math at St. Regis, after having begun teaching in 1995. According to St. Regis vice principal Heather Sofran, Kase is a dynamic instructor and the “quintessential teacher.” 

“She is always looking for best practices in math instruction and she believes all students can have a math mind,” Sofran told Detroit Catholic. “She is very encouraging, and the way she teaches, she makes sure that every child ‘gets’ it.”

Sofran said Kase makes herself available during lunch and after school to help her students. 

“I have never been more supported to take chances professionally,” Kase said of the administration at St. Regis. “This year, I was able to open up a school store for my fifth graders. My administrators are so supportive of me and give me the freedom to challenge myself, which also makes me love my job even more.”

Kase said being allowed to express her faith at school makes all the difference when teaching her students, informing her choices inside and outside the classroom. 

“When you don’t have (the freedom to express your faith), it’s like you are missing a tool in your toolbox,” Kase said. 

Operating a remote classroom helped Kase grow in appreciation for the energy she receives from the students in her classes — and, she really misses her students and can’t wait to return to in-person teaching. 

“Mrs. Kase goes above and beyond,” Kijewski said in a video message congratulating this year’s winners. “For example, she regularly works after school hosting math labs for enrichment and comes in before school and at lunch to help students who need extra support.”

Bishop John M. Quinn Secondary Teacher of the Year: Barbara Kirwan, St. Catherine of Siena Academy, Wixom

Barbara Kirwan is the recipient of the Bishop John M. Quinn Secondary Teacher of the Year Award. Kirwan teaches theology and philosophy at St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom. (Courtesy of St. Catherine of Siena Academy)

Barbara Kirwan is a legend at St. Catherine of Siena Academy. She has been teaching theology, and more recently, philosophy, at the school since its infancy, and according to principal Judy Hehs, has played a huge role in influencing the culture of the school over the past 10 years. 

“She is original to the mission. She is original to instructing so much of the culture that exists in the school,” Hehs said. “She has a really great perspective on what it’s like to educate to the feminine genius. We educate young women to go and set the world ablaze.”

Hehs said that Kirwan is modest about teaching such weighty topics, but Hehs said Kirwan is gifted at what she does and the school’s alumni are the proof. 

“When the graduates come back, they always stop by her classroom,” Hehs said. “Students have said she actually made them become thinkers so that when they went out into the world, they could fall back on the some of the knowledge that she imparted.”

In addition to her theology and philosophy classes, which include a class that brings Sacred Scripture alive through art projects, Kirwin also moderates the school’s National Honors Society. 

Kirwan told Detroit Catholic she loves working with the younger generation and hopes to have a positive impact on their future. 

“I think it is important to mentor our young people well,” Kase said. “I just think it makes for a healthier adult person when they have good relationships with people who have brought them up.”

Kirwan said her goal is to help girls become strong, independent, spiritually-minded young adults.

“I think that our particular calling is to educate young women to understand their dignity as women made in the image and likeness of God, but with a unique capacity to affect the world,” Kirwin said. “I want to help women learn how to love appropriately. All of us love differently. So to help them learn that and to see the beauty in that is very rewarding.”

2020 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners

Elementary Schools

  • Bishop Kelley School, Lapeer – Lindsay Rogers
  • Christ the King School, Detroit – Judith A. Brooks
  • Divine Child Elementary School, Dearborn – Ann Marie Prevost
  • Everest Academy, Clarkston – Theresa Radich
  • Gesu School, Detroit – Bridget Schick
  • Guardian Angels School, Clawson – Jennifer Lin
  • Holy Cross School, Marine City – Anna Wade
  • Holy Family Regional School, Rochester – Megan Naglik
  • Holy Name School, Birmingham – Ann VanFleteren
  • Holy Redeemer School, Detroit – Maria Davison
  • Immaculate Conception School, Ira Township - Jacqueline Jenkins
  • John Paul II School, Lincoln Park – Jennifer Szarek
  • Most Holy Trinity School, Detroit – Therese Costello
  • Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Plymouth – Kim Cinzori
  • Our Lady of the Lakes Elementary School, Waterford – Ashley Stolarski Sumner
  • Our Lady of Sorrows School, Farmington – Emily Maroun
  • Our Lady of Victory School, Northville – Julie Maser
  • Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Grosse Pointe Woods – Melissa Walter
  • Sacred Heart School, Dearborn – Amy Gustafson
  • Shrine Elementary School, Royal Oak – Lisa Gmeiner
  • St. Anne School, Warren – Maureen Snyder
  • St. Anselm School, Dearborn Heights – Michelle Popiel
  • St. Augustine School, Richmond – Heather Cattivera
  • St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Academy, Newport – Kristen Provencher
  • St. Fabian School, Farmington Hills – Vicky Donovan
  • St. Hugo of the Hills School, Bloomfield Hills – Theresa Blevins
  • St. Isaac Jogues School, St. Clair Shores – Linda Blackburn
  • St. Joseph School, Lake Orion – Debbie Jacobson
  • St. Linus School, Dearborn Heights – Dwayne Dorey
  • St. Mary School, Monroe – McKenzie Cobb
  • St. Mary School, Royal Oak – Shannon Smith
  • St. Patrick School, Carleton – Maureen Wickenheiser
  • St. Paul on the Lake School, Grosse Pointe Farms – Carla Schultz
  • St. Pius X School, Southgate – Megan Pizzo
  • St. Regis School, Bloomfield Hills – Joni Kase
  • St. Stephen School, New Boston – Rachel Hutcherson
  • St. Thecla School, Clinton Township – Cindy Pryor
  • St. William School, Walled Lake – Angela Roelofs

High Schools

  • Austin Catholic High School, Chesterfield Township – Carol Bokhari
  • Bishop Foley High School, Madison Heights – Shonna Proctor
  • Brother Rice High School, Bloomfield Hills – Bethany Beyer
  • Cabrini High School, Allen Park – Christine Flynn
  • Cardinal Mooney High School, Marine City – Cynthia Praet
  • De La Salle Collegiate High School, Warren – Scott Grimmer
  • Everest Collegiate High School, Clarkston – Nghiem Nguyen
  • Gabriel Richard High School, Riverview – Anna Fedora
  • Marian High School, Bloomfield Hills – Sharon Videtich
  • Mercy High School, Farmington Hills – Colleen Byrn
  • Our Lady of the Lakes High School, Waterford – Lynn Metzoian
  • Regina High School, Warren – Ashley Ackerman
  • Shrine High School, Royal Oak – Julie Malloy
  • St. Catherine of Siena Academy, Wixom – Barbara Kirwan
  • St. Mary’s Preparatory High School, Orchard Lake – Leonard Karschnia

*Some schools did not submit a nominee for the “Excellence in Teaching” award.