10 teachers, principals honored as 'Amazing Catholic Educators' for 2024

The 2023-24 Catholic Foundation of Michigan "Amazing Catholic Educators" award recipients include (top row, left to right) Mary Kate Becker, teacher at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills; Bradley Cross, teacher at Shrine High School, Royal Oak; Rachel Damuth, principal at St. Valentine School, Redford Township; Nicole Hughes, teacher at Bishop Foley High School, Madison Heights; Laura Ilov, teacher at Holy Redeemer School, Detroit; (bottom row, left to right) Joe Kalczynski, teacher at Brother Rice High School, Bloomfield Hills; Kaelah Lesnau, teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Plymouth; Lisa DiMercurio, principal at St. Lawrence School, Utica; Theresa Radich, teacher at Everest Academy, Clarkston; and Patty Willoughby, teacher at Regina High School, Warren. (Courtesy photos)

Catholic Foundation of Michigan fund has recognized 45 teachers since 2019-20; Sr. Rose Mary Sam, IHM, given lifetime honor

DETROIT — Catholic school teachers and principals from across the Archdiocese of Detroit were rewarded by benefactors of Catholic education through the Catholic Foundation of Michigan for the fifth consecutive year.

Ten educators received $1,000 prizes and recognition from the Catholic Foundation’s Amazing Catholic Educators award program on March 6.

In addition the award and cash prize, the teachers and principals each receive a night’s stay at the Inn at St. John's in Plymouth, courtesy of the Pulte Family Foundation.

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“Today, our goal is to give thanks to our educators, who are providing an overwhelming sense of joy and hope through their work,” Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, said during a livestreamed awards presentation.

Since the 2019-20 academic year, donors to the Catholic Foundation of Michigan have awarded $45,000 to 45 principals and teachers across the Archdiocese of Detroit in recognition for their years of dedication to providing Christ-centered education to the next generation of leaders in the Church.

In addition to the announcing the 10 award winners — each of whom was featured in a Zoom call in which they were shown accepting their award among their students and colleagues — the Catholic Foundation of Michigan announced that through an anonymous donor, every dollar given to the Amazing Catholic Educators fund will be matched up to $10,000.

“Our mission is to support chartable giving, to ensure people who are philanthropic are able to do so in a way that is inspiring and simple,” Moloney said. “Our mission is to support Catholic parishes, schools and ministries by sitting at the center of Catholic philanthropy and bringing together the resources of individuals and families while providing an everlasting impact on our community.”

In addition to the 10 award winners, seven honorable mentions received a free meal at the Inn at St. John's, courtesy of the Pulte Family Foundation.

The Catholic Foundation also recognized Sr. Rose Mary Sam, IHM, a longtime educator who taught at St. Mary Academy in Monroe, Notre Dame Prep in Harper Woods, Regina High School in Warren and Bishop Gallagher High School in Harper Woods with the inaugural Amazing Catholic Educator Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sr. Rose Mary Sam, IHM, received the inaugural Catholic Foundation of Michigan's Amazing Catholic Educators Lifetime Achievement Award. (Courtesy photo)
Sr. Rose Mary Sam, IHM, received the inaugural Catholic Foundation of Michigan's Amazing Catholic Educators Lifetime Achievement Award. (Courtesy photo)

Sr. Sam was invited to share a few words about the importance of Catholic education and the impact of Catholic school teachers on the future of the Church.

“Education of our youth is so important; having the religious aspect added into our education every day is making our students into outstanding adults with nurtured faith in God," Sr. Sam said. "Take a minute to think about a teacher who left an impact on your life. As an educator with faith and love, you will continue to impact a great many lives in a positive way.

"It is always a pleasure to have a student come back and acknowledge the work you have done and how you have impact you have had in your life. The days are long, but the years are short," Sr. Sam said. "The rewards of this job are knowing you tried to set the next generation on the right path. Your presence matters, and is needed.”

This year's Amazing Catholic Educators are below, along with descriptions of their work, as provided by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan.

Rachel Damuth, principal, St. Valentine School, Redford Township

"Rachel Damuth 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, principal, St. Lawrence School, Utica

"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, teacher, Mercy High School, Farmington Hills

"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, teacher, Shrine High School, Royal Oak

"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, teacher, Bishop Foley High School, Madison Heights

"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, teacher, Holy Redeemer School, Detroit

"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, teacher, Brother Rice High School, Bloomfield Hills

"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, teacher, Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Plymouth

"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, teacher, Everest Academy, Clarkston

"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, teacher, Regina High School, Warren

"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 School, Detroit
  • Janelle Erlingis, Our Lady of Victory School, Northville
  • Anne Hull, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School, Beverly Hills
  • Michele Sophiea, St. Anselm Catholic School, Dearborn Heights
  • Samantha Mann, St. Fabian School, Farmington Hills
  • Suzanne Walz, St. Lawrence School, Utica
  • Kathleen M. Johnson, University of Detroit Jesuit Schools and Academy, Detroit


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