Local Catholic school teachers displaying the Golden Apple Awards they received at a May 17 dinner are, from left to right: Patricia Petruzzelli, a religion teacher at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville; Maryanne Hellender, a fourth grade teacher at Little Flower School in Bethesda; Peggy Garner, a third grade teacher at St. Mary School in Bryantown; Kathy Luongo, the resource director and reading specialist at Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown; Marissa Butler, a teacher at St. John the Evangelist School in Clinton; Heather Francisco, a second grade teacher at Father Andrew White School in Leonardtown; Cecelia Rosenfelder, a third grade teacher at St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel; Nora Facchiano, director of the Extended School Program at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring; Mary Schaeffer, a resource teacher at St. Peter School in Olney; and Jennifer Raley, a first grade teacher at St. Michael School in Ridge.
Local Catholic school teachers displaying the Golden Apple Awards they received at a May 17 dinner are, from left to right: Patricia Petruzzelli, a religion teacher at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville; Maryanne Hellender, a fourth grade teacher at Little Flower School in Bethesda; Peggy Garner, a third grade teacher at St. Mary School in Bryantown; Kathy Luongo, the resource director and reading specialist at Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown; Marissa Butler, a teacher at St. John the Evangelist School in Clinton; Heather Francisco, a second grade teacher at Father Andrew White School in Leonardtown; Cecelia Rosenfelder, a third grade teacher at St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel; Nora Facchiano, director of the Extended School Program at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring; Mary Schaeffer, a resource teacher at St. Peter School in Olney; and Jennifer Raley, a first grade teacher at St. Michael School in Ridge.
The traditional sign of gratitude in a classroom, apples for the teacher, was again displayed in a special way on May 17, as Golden Apple Awards were presented to 10 outstanding teachers from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington.

"Remember, God has chosen you to do this. This is your vocation. It's an amazing call from God," said the mistress of ceremonies, Greta Kreuz, the Maryland bureau chief for ABC 7/WJLA-TV.

The Donahue Family Foundation established the Golden Apple Awards to thank and honor outstanding Catholic school teachers. The teachers honored at the archdiocese's fourth annual Golden Apple Awards Dinner received a golden apple, a monetary award of $5,000, a pin and certificate of achievement. The honorees were introduced by Deacon Bert L'Homme, the archdiocese's superintendent for Catholic schools.

Speaking on behalf of the honored teachers, Mary Schaeffer, a resource teacher at St. Peter School in Olney, said at Catholic schools, children get the "added value" of an academically strong curriculum where the faith is taught and lived. "Catholic schools exist to pass on the faith from one generation to the next... Our parents believe Catholic education prepares students for this life and the next," she said.

The St. Peter's teacher said Catholic schools exist to share the good news of Jesus, and Christ is present in every classroom and is the reason the schools exist. "All of us here tonight feel His hand on our shoulders, supporting us in this important work," she said.

Cardinal Wuerl, who helped present the awards, thanked the teachers, and he noted that in his recent ad limina visit with Pope Benedict XVI, he told the Holy Father "how proud we are in the archdiocese of everything being done in our Catholic schools."

The cardinal noted the important role that Catholic schools play in the New Evangelization, as they teach students the faith and encourage them to share it with others. With their Catholic education, he said, students are prepared to go forth with hope, knowing "that they can change the world."

In his remarks, Thomas Burnford, the archdiocesan secretary for Catholic education, spoke of the serious challenge that Catholic institutions are facing with the HHS mandate. "This is not about contraception," he said. "Never before has the government tried to define religion and force us to go against what we believe."

Burnford encouraged the educators to pray, to learn about the issue, and take action on it. "Now is the time for each of us to be informed about this important issue and work together to defend freedom of religion," he said.

At the dinner, a video produced by Christopher Strackbein from the archdiocese's Office of Digital Media showed the teachers being surprised at the news of their awards. In the video, a student said of his teacher, "She doesn't just teach religion. She encourages students to live their faith in their everyday life."