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Education Features

Catholic Education Awards to be presented Jan. 26

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The diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, in conjunction with the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, has announced the recipients of the annual Catholic education awards. These awards recognize those in Catholic education who show dedication to their work.

Father James Ciupek of Nativity of Our Lord School in Orchard Park is surprised by Dr. Timothy Uhl, secretary of education and Principal Coleen Scott when they announced his name as recipient of the Distinguished Pastor Award for his support of Catholic Schools. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Father James Ciupek of Nativity of Our Lord in Orchard Park will receive the inaugural Distinguished Pastor Award. Karen Rahill of DeSales Catholic School in Lockport will receive the first-ever Distinguished Principal Award. Vicky Petricca, second grade teacher at St. Christopher School in Tonawanda, was named this year’s recipient of the Sister Lucille Soccarielli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award.

All awards will be presented at a Jan. 26 luncheon. The presentation can be seen on the second annual “Shooting for the Stars” special, airing Saturday, Jan. 28 on WBBZ-TV. The program, which raises awareness of the importance of Catholic education in Western New York, is the largest fundraiser for needs-based tuition assistance.

Dr. Timothy Uhl, secretary of education; Kari Buchinger, deputy superintendent of Catholic Schools; and Christian Riso, assistant superintendent of government programs, traveled to each of the three schools to surprise the recipients.

At Nativity of the Lord School, the announcement of Father Ciupek’s name drew thundering applause from his students during an impromptu assembly in the school cafeteria.

“The thing that stood out for us, Father Jim tries to make it in the morning to greet you guys. That’s certainly significant. He’s also very supportive of his principal, Mrs. (Coleen) Scott. And the school is a priority for him. That’s why we want to honor Father Jim,” said Uhl to the students and staff.

The students then began a chant of “Father Jim, Father Jim, Father Jim.”

Principal Karen Rahill of De Sales Catholic School in Lockport is named Distinguished Principal of the Year by the diocesan Catholic Schools Department. Kari Buchinger, deputy superintendent of Catholic Schools; Christian Riso, assistant superintendent of government programs, and Dr. Timothy Uhl, secretary of education, presented Rahill with flowers during a visit to her school. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

In Lockport, the students were a bit disappointed that Santa wasn’t a part of their surprise gathering, but they did cheer Principal Rahill, who thanked her students, teachers and assistant principal, Regina Granchelli.

“It’s been a challenging few years with Covid,” Uhl told the students. “Up here, we had some changes in the canonical leadership – the priests and so forth. So, it’s been challenging for Mrs. Rahill. We’re really impressed with the steady hand that she has had over the years, how committed she is to the school as an alum, and committed to this community. Her nominations really stood out. We want you to know how lucky you are to have Mrs. Rahill as a principal.”

Vicky Petricca (center), second grade teacher at St. Christopher School in Tonawanda meets with Principal Denise Cronyn and Dr. Tim Uhl, secretary of Catholic Education, after being named this year’s recipient of the Sister Lucille Soccarielli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

The Sister Lucille Soccarielli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award, which was founded by the late “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert, honors teachers who inspire their students to do their best. Petricca was nominated by four of her co-workers.

“We want to recognize great teaching when we see it,” said Uhl.

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