By KATIE BORKOWSKI
Though Al Roker, weather and feature anchor on NBC’s Today, doesn’t speak at many events, he said speaking at the Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools meant something to him.
“Support for Catholic schools is very important,” said the keynote speaker. “If you can do something to help, that’s a good thing. I am thrilled to be here.”
Roker is the oldest of six children who grew up in Queens. His father was a bus driver and his mother was a homemaker. He attended St. Catherine of Siena Elementary School in Queens.
“We moved from Brooklyn to Queens because my parents wanted us to have a home and a good education,” said Roker. “After six months in the public schools, they decided they wanted us to go to a Catholic school. At the time, it was my brother, myself and two sisters.”
He said one of the people who was influential in his life was Sister Emanuela, a Dominican nun.
“She just passed away about five years ago at the age of 95 years old,” said Roker. “She believed in her students. I think teachers are called to this job because they want to help and they believe in what they do. I believe Catholic school teachers take that even one step further, whether they are part of a religious order or a lay teacher.”
Roker received a full scholarship to Xavier High School, “a Jesuit military academy,” in Manhattan, he quipped.
“I am standing here today, as the Today show weather man, because of what I learned at Xavier High School,” Roker insisted. “My Jesuit priests, my Jesuit teachers taught us to be curious, taught us to be free thinkers, to be compassionate and they also instilled an interest in the arts.”
Supporting Catholic schools
The 20th Annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools was held on Sept. 24 at the Sioux City Convention Center. Father Ed Girres prayed the invocation prayer before the meal.
“We thank you for the gift of the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Sioux City where the message of your life, death and resurrection is proclaimed, Christian community is experienced, service to our brothers and sisters is modeled and worship of you is cultivated,” he prayed. “Increase our zeal for ensuring all children and families can benefit from a high quality Catholic education.”
Kristie Arlt, director of communications and stewardship, pointed out Bishop Walker Nickless has been in the diocese for 10 years.
“This is your 10th dinner and we have done nine together,” she said. “One thing I am always impressed with is our bishop and how much he cares about this dinner. He cares about the details.”
The dinner, Arlt announced, raised $150,000 this year, which was $30,000 more than last year.
“That money goes right back to our schools,” she said. “Textbooks, technology and teacher education are the three things you are supporting by being here tonight. If we didn’t have this money, we would be in trouble.”
Brian and Karen Thilges, parishioners at St. Cecelia’s in Algona, were the chair couple of the dinner and helped with the planning. Their children Andrew and Amanda attend Bishop Garrigan in Algona.
“We have witnessed a lot of great things in the last 10 years at Bishop Garrigan,” said Brian Thilges, who shared experiences with the audience. “Yes, the students learn about the sacraments, saints, Jesus and many other religious things. The most important things they learn are the importance of prayer, love, how to treat others, respect, character, patience, humility, integrity, morals and trust.”
In honor of the 20th year of the Bishop’s Dinner, Dan Ryan, superintendent of Catholic schools, recognized more than 150 teachers, administrators and staff who have “dedicated 20 plus years of service to our schools.”
He announced the Bishop’s Dinner award recipients. With a combined 115 years of teaching between them, the three recipients of this year’s Excellence in Education Award were Brendan Burchard of Bishop Heelan High School, Sioux City; Vicki Heeren of St. Catherine-St. Mary School, Remsen and Karen McGregor of Bishop Garrigan School, Algona.
“These are just some of the words people used to describe these outstanding educators – excellence, compassion, faith-filled, dedicated, role model, leader, love and friendship,” said Ryan.
Burchard, a high school religion teacher, is in his 48th year of teaching at Bishop Heelan. He spoke of three of the many people who helped mold him.
“Beanie (Cooper) taught me how to coach, teach and act like a Catholic, Christian man,” said Burchard. “Father Vic Ramaeker was our principal at Bishop Heelan for many years. He had the confidence to ask me if I would be interested in teaching religion. That was in 1982 and I am still teaching in that very same room.”
Heeren, a kindergarten teacher, has been teaching for more than 30 years. She thanked her family, her colleagues, friends and the school family at St. Catherine-St. Mary’s.
“God’s call and your support are why I stand here today,” said Heeran. “My job as kindergarten teacher fills me with great joy. The wonder in their eyes when they grasp a new concept. The honest, pure expression that accompanies the learning of a new skill is priceless.”
McGregor has been a first grade teacher for 37 years at Seton Grade School. She said education has been part of her family for generations – her great-grandfather, her aunts and several brothers and sisters.
“Catholic education has always meant a great deal to me,” said McGregor. “Teaching at Bishop Garrigan has been a very rewarding experience. The administration, the faculty, the staff, the parents and the students are a family. A family that prays together, works together and has fun together. Catholic education is truly who we are.”
The recipient of the Clergy Award was Father Merlin Schrad, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Estherville and Immaculate Conception Parish, Graettinger. The priest has served at Carroll Kuemper, Le Mars Gehlen, Storm Lake St. Mary’s and Holy Cross and Bishop Heelan in Sioux City.
“I want to thank Bishop Nickless and Dr. Ryan for suggesting my name for this honor,” said Father Schrad. “It is only through the help of hundreds of people from fantastic communities that made my years in school and parish work filled with so many blessings. I am just one of many priests who work day after day to bring the message of Christ to our young people and to their parents.”
Bishop Nickless concluded the evening, expressing his thanks and imparting a blessing.
“I am truly blessed as your bishop to have dedicated educators teaching our young people,” said the bishop. “I pray for you and your work every day and for everyone in this room because of the great appreciation we have for your efforts.”