An all-schools Mass at Central High kicked off Catholic Schools Week on Monday morning.
“Catholic Schools Week is a time set aside by Catholic schools across the nation to celebrate our students, teachers, parents and volunteers, our parishes, priests, parishioners and all of our supporters,” Billings Catholic School Board chairman Rod Souza told a crowd that filled the Ralph Nelles Activities Center at Billings Central Catholic High School.
Each group, Souza said, plays a crucial role in the success of Billings Catholic Schools.
“In order to continue to grow and thrive during these challenging times for education in America, every element of the equation must be present,” he said.
The theme for National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards.” This year is significant as the Billings Catholic Schools system marks its 100th year of education in the community.
Bishop Michael W. Warfel, head of the Great Falls-Billings Diocese, led Mass attended by more than 1,200.
Following the Mass, the system’s president, Harold Olson, announced recipients of the 2012-2013 BCS Awards of Excellence.
“These recipients, through both words and actions, truly embody the spirit of Billings Catholic Schools,” Olson said.
Diane and Robert Tehle, of Alpine Plumbing, were awarded the business partner of the year award. Olson said that along with consistent support every year as one of the system’s business sponsors, Alpine Plumbing saved the schools thousands of dollars.
“This year’s business partner of the year has gone above and beyond, not just in providing service to our schools, but in providing it in a moment’s notice and preventing catastrophic damage,” Olson said.
The outstanding young alum award was presented to Phillip Barndt, a 2007 Central graduate.
Barndt, who went on to play four years of basketball at Rocky Mountain College while majoring in business and math, has mentored youth through his participation in NBC basketball camps. He also has traveled to areas in Africa were he taught basketball and shared a message of hope through Christianity.
Barndt works at the Shodair Hospital in Helena where he mentors troubled youth.
“In the five years since his graduation, this young man has touched the lives of more children than most of us will do in a lifetime,” Olson said.
Jacque Ayers was named volunteer of the year. Ayers' dedication to the schools can be noted in the thousands of dollars she has ensured for the school’s budget and all the students who have benefitted from her work.
“But, we know that her contributions to our schools are priceless,” Olson said.
Teacher draws in kids
Last but not least, Olson said, the final award went to kindergarten teacher Jill Powers as the educator of the year.
“This person has been called magical, kind and loving,” Olson said. “It’s been said that she utilizes the perfect combination of kindness and authority in her classroom, and creates a safe environment for all children.”
Olson said her reputation precedes her and countless families have joined the school system because of her.
“She exemplifies all that is best in a teacher and makes each child feel special, while at the same time developing partnerships with parents to ensure that best possible educational experience for each child.”
The BCS Foundation presented the system with a check in the amount of $375,322.
Jan Haider, executive director of the foundation, said the money comes from the Billings Area Catholic Education Trust and is an annual donation to the school system to help offset operational costs, provides tuition assistance and supplies about 45 scholarships annually.
The amount of money given to the school, which comes from the interest gained by the trust, is based on a three-year rolling average of the BACET’s interest.
Haider said BACET has grown through donations by community members and other investments from $3,000 pooled by five people in 1973 to being able to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to Billings Catholic Schools. Since its inception 40 years ago, it has given more than $5 million to the schools.
Activities on tap
Catholic Schools Week includes donation drives for local organizations, honoring faculty and volunteers and other activities.
Central students were dressed in handmade tie-dye shirts to show their unity in their faith, freshman Cody Harper said.
Karen Petermann, Saint Francis Primary principal, said students will come to school Tuesday wearing costumes of what they'd like to be when they grow up.
Saint Francis Upper Principal Jim Stanton, said students will dress in red, white and blue on Tuesday, honoring the country and those who serve in the military.
Students at Saint Francis Intermediate will end the week with a sock hop in celebration of the socks they’ve collected throughout the week that will be donated to the Women’s and Family Shelter, said Principal Chris Read.
“We have a lot to be thankful for and so much to celebrate this week,” Olson said. “The main thing is to celebrate together our faith in our community.
“We open and close each day with prayer, and then within that day, we strive to raise our standards.”