The Celebrating Catholic Education Dinner, as the name implies, is the one evening each year when teachers and administrators from schools within the Diocese of Orange are recognized for contributing to the mental, emotional and spiritual growth of the county’s youth.
There was added reason for celebration this year as the festivities were being held for the first time since 2019, when the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the event two years in a row.
“The past two years have presented us with unimaginable challenges and fears and yet through the grace of God, our Catholic schools have shined as beacons of hope and sources of light during the darkest days,” said Dr. Erin Barisano, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, in her welcome message.
The theme for this year’s dinner, which was held on April 8 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Anaheim, was “Helping students grow in the light of the Lord,” a dictum followed by Catholic school educators every day, Barisano said.
“We are called to grow in Christ’s divine light every day,” the superintendent said. “And through our ministry of Catholic education, we turn that light to our students.”
The Bishop Vann Award, named for Most Rev. Kevin Vann, bishop of Orange, and presented to an educator who has demonstrated “exceptional excellence and dedication as a Catholic Educator in the Diocese of Orange, was given to Dr. Shawna Pautsch, head of school at Rosary Academy, and Sean Basford, principal and assistant head of school at Rosary.
The Rosary administrators were bestowed with the honor for their efforts in guiding the admission of almost 50 former Cornelia Connelly School students to Rosary, after financial issues forced Connelly to close after 58 years. Barisano said she received a message from a friend who was touched by the level of respect and love shown to her daughters, who were among the former Connelly students who transitioned to Rosary.
“This is just one example of the love and the care showed by the leaders, the teachers and staff of Rosary Academy and it’s a beautiful example of their mission to serve their dear neighbor without distinction,” the superintendent said.
BISHOP THANH THAI NGUYEN ADDRESSES THE ATTENDEES AT THE CELEBRATING CATHOLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION DINNER EVENT AT J.W. MARRIOTT HOTEL IN ANAHEIM. PHOTO: STEVEN GEORGES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Pautsch credited the value of inclusive love, one of the core values adopted by the of Sisters of St. Joseph, Rosary’s founding order.
“I’m accepting this award on behalf of our entire Rosary community because we are calling to serve our dear neighbor and be examples of hospitality, unity and reconciliation,” Pautsch said. We opened our arms to those Connelly women. They are truly now Rosary Royals. It’s because of our current faculty and staff that our community continues to thrive and I am grateful to each of them.”
Pautsch also credited her fellow honoree, for his willingness to move from Santa Margarita High School, a coed institution, to the all girls educational model at Rosary.
“I truly believe the faculty, staff and students at Rosary are most deserving of this award for it is their acceptance and inclusion of the Connelly community that made this possible,” Basford said.
The keynote speakers for the Katie Webb Brundige and Meghan Clem, cofounders and executive directors of RAD Camp.
An acronym for “rising above disabilities,” Irvine based RAD Camp is an overnight camp designed for children with developmental disabilities.
But another mission of RAD Camp is to provide a respite for caregivers and an opportunity for profound growth for camp volunteers.
Clem and Webb Brundige are both products of Catholic school education in Orange County and are members of Holy Family in Orange and St. Edwards in Dana Point, respectively.
Webb Brundige, a Rosary graduate, cited her high school friends and teachers for providing support for what she described as the most difficult period of her life, her parents’ divorce.
“If it wasn’t for my friends who protected me every day as I walked on the campus or the teachers who recognized something was wrong, I believe I would not be standing here today,” Webb Brundige said. “Rosary really did become my home away from home.”
Webb Brundige also recalls the day a teacher spoke to her class at Rosary about volunteering at a camp for special needs children.
She volunteered at the camp, where she met Clem, who was attending Santa Margarita High School.
They became friends and began running camps together until final founding RAD Camp.
“That summer, I signed up for camp for what I thought would be my first and only summer and this summer I’ll celebrate my 21st summer of going back to camp,” Webb Brundige said. “Without a doubt, passion for the RAD community and special needs communities have never been stronger than it is today.”
The dinner was also an opportunity to recognize more than 100 teachers and administrators who’ve served in Diocese schools for periods of 10 to 40 years.
Forty-year honorees included Dave Taylor, vice president of finance at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and Sister Teresa Lynch, principal of St. Anne School in Santa Ana.
Barisano also took a moment to remember Sister Kathleen Marie Pughe, CSJ, longtime principal who served at several schools in the Diocese, who died on March 31, 2022.
Dr. Barisano remembered Sister Kathleen Marie, who served as principal at several schools in the Diocese for decades and assisted in the preparation for the education dinner.
“We are saddened that she is not here sitting with us tonight,” the superintendent said.