Teacher’s influence felt far and wide

National Catholic Schools Week is the annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. It started Sunday, Jan. 26 and runs through today, Feb. 1. Schools typically observe the week with Masses, open house and other activities to focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our Church, our communities and our nation. Below is the profile of a local  educator who is among those recognized this year with a  Distinguished Teacher Award.

Mary Grigsby from St. Joseph School in Fort Collins was one of only 12 Catholic school teachers nationwide selected for the annual Distinguished Teacher Award by the National Catholic Educational Association.

The award recognizes a teacher for a clear, integrated philosophy of Catholic education; high regard by peers, students and parents; and more than 10 years in Catholic elementary education. For Grigsby, that philosophy is informed by efforts well beyond Colorado’s borders, through her mission work in Africa.

“I was shocked,” Grigsby said of the honor. “It is a beautiful thing.”

Grigsby has been teaching since1984 after obtaining an elementary education degree from the University of San Diego and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She is in her 17th year teaching kindergarten at St. Joe’s, and before that, she taught all grades in her native state of California.

Once she settled on kindergarten, she was hooked.

“That was the start of fast love,” she said. “I love how they learn so much in such a short year. The growth is incredible.”

Grigsby was nominated for the award by Principal Sister Rose Mary Balappa, S.O.L.M.

“She is an exceptional educator and we have been blessed to have her among our faculty,” said Sister Balappa. “She has made significant contributions to the learning community and lives out a clear philosophy of Catholic education.”

One way Grigsby influences her students is including them in her experiences of traveling to Kenya. In January 2013, she made her first mission trip with friend, Karen Canino, a retired art teacher from St. Joseph’s. They traveled to the Samburu area, each hauling an extra 50-pound suitcase filled with supplies for the impoverished students and families there.

“If you send school supplies, they get stolen in the process,” she said. “There is a lot of corruption. You have to hand-deliver them.”

During their trip, they sanded and painted plywood to create chalkboards for the Lorubae School, painted classrooms and helped build two libraries. They also donated the materials from a reading program that was used in the past at St. Joseph’s.

“They have no supplies,” Grigsby explained. “They have a desk, floor and walls.”

Fruits of the donations were soon evident.

“Their testing scores went way up,” she said of the students’ progress. Education is available in Samburu for free through eighth grade. Then fees are charged for high school, making further education cost prohibitive for most students.

Grigsby is also working with the Samburu Youth Education Fund (www.samburuyouth.org), co-founded by a professor at Colorado State University, that helps financially support students in high school.

“The only way out of this cycle of poverty is through education,” she said.

She takes these valuable lessons back to Fort Collins.

“Those children (in Samburu) are so happy … and they have nothing,” she said, becoming emotional as she reflected on her time with the children. “There are privileged children that complain—and they have it so good.”

About two weeks ago Grigsby returned from her second trip to Kenya, with eight individuals who delivered 400 pounds of supplies including a sewing machine and school supplies—as well as flip flops, sports balls and books collected by St. Joe’s students during an Advent Service Day.

“It’s really meaningful for the children to see where their donations go,” she said. “They are incredible; they really get it.”

That dedication to young people is one of the reasons she was nominated for the Distinguished Teacher Award, according to Sister Balappa.

“I am so happy she is receiving this award,” Sister said. “She deserves it.”

She will receive the award at the annual NCEA convention in April in Pittsburg, Pa.

Grigsby and her husband, David, have four children: three who are alumni of St. Joseph’s and their youngest is a seventh-grader there.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash