By Rachele Smith

The Catholic Commentator

Laughing at one point that she was “preaching to the choir,” Sister Martha Ann Abshire FMOL encouraged the more than 150 people gathered for the Diocesan Home & School’s annual awards luncheon to continue to manifest their faith by deeds.

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Sister Martha Ann Abshire FMOL shares thoughts on faith and action at the annual Diocesan Home & School Luncheon honoring the diocese’s students of the year, distinguished educators and Mother Seton Award winners. Photo by Rachele Smith | The Catholic Commentator


“Live your faith in a very real way that is not just by words but actions that will teach because children learn by being witnesses to actions,” she said.

As the guest speaker for the 2017 event honoring the diocese’s students of the year, distinguished educators and Mother Seton award winners, Sister Martha Ann explained how her own personal experiences growing up, which included watching and learning from her parents’ deep faith and multilayered actions, not only guided her childhood but ultimately nourished her vocation to religious life.

“My vocation is really a gift because I didn’t do anything to merit this gift,” she said, adding some time ago she was mediating on “this gift” when she realized it was meant for her parents.

“With all of my heart, I believe that. They stuck it out; they lived the faith and they believed and they believed deeply,” Sister Martha Ann explained.

“I am a witness to their deep faith,” she added.

Dr. Melanie Verges, superintendent of the diocese’s Catholic School Office, also addressed those attending the luncheon on April 25.

Verges expressed gratitude to all of the volunteers in Catholic schools throughout the diocese. She also offered a recap of student achievement, noting that students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge continue to demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom as evidenced by key metrics, including the high school ACT composite score of 23.9 for the Class of 2016, well above the state average of 19.5 and the national average of 20.8.

In addition, Verges noted student scores on the Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education (ACRE) test, which measures faith knowledge, were also above the national norm for 2015-2016, when scores were most recently available.

Students, however, are not just knowledgeable about their faith, they also “walk the talk,” according to Verges.

She said, in 2015-2016, schools across the diocese reported a total of more than 200,000 hours in service to the community.

Additionally, Verges reported that in January, at the annual Mass celebrated during Catholic Schools Week, students donated items totaling about $16,000 to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Bishop Robert W. Muench was the last to speak to the group, which included priests, principals and representatives from almost every Catholic school in the diocese.

The bishop praised Catholic schools, noting they make a difference, not just in the personal and academic success of students but also in their spiritual growth.

“And that is something we contribute to our society and to our church,” he said.

Before offering a final blessing, Bishop Muench also shared words of encouragement, reminding all those in attendance that they are making a difference and are representing God and the church.

“God is counting on us to minister for God in a very special way in our own places and particularly in the opportunities to educate and help form our young people,” he said.

Earlier in the program, Reneé Tullier, president of the Diocesan Home & School Association, honored the various award winners, including students of the year: Joseph DiGiovanni, a fifth-grade student at Holy Ghost in Hammond; Anna Eagleton, an eighth-grade student at St. Aloysius in Baton Rouge; and Emma Grace Woodruff, a senior at St. Joseph’s Academy.

Tullier also presented special awards of appreciation to the 2017 Distinguished Educators of the Diocese of Baton Rouge: Roslyn Landry, a teacher at Most Blessed Sacrament in Baton Rouge and the Distinguished Catholic School Educator; Paula Fabre, principal at St. Francis Xavier in Baton Rouge and the Distinguished Catholic School Administrator; and Father Cayet Mangiaracina OP parochial vicar at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond and the Distinguished School Clergy member.

In addition, Mother Seton Award honorees received special awards for their exemplary service to their individual schools. They were Todd Landry, Ascension Catholic in Donaldsonville; Jenny Ridge, Catholic High in Baton Rouge; Monica Trepagnier, Catholic of Pointe Coupee in New Roads; Rhonda Webber, Holy Family in Port Allen; Desiree Street, Holy Ghost in Hammond; Marietta Coslan, Mater Dolorosa in Independence; Jason McCann, Most Blessed Sacrament in Baton Rouge; Dawn Maillet Beale, Our Lady of Mercy in Baton Rouge; Trisha Rawlinson, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Baton Rouge; Kelly Lewis, St. Aloysius in Baton Rouge; Veronica Craven, St. Alphonsus in Greenwell Springs; Lauren Mattingly, St. Elizabeth in Paincourtville; Debbie Ray, St. Francis Xavier in Baton Rouge; Dena Balart, St. George in Baton Rouge; Lowell Hebert, St. Jean Vianney in Baton Rouge; Lovee Rodriquez, St. John Interparochial in Plaquemine; Kim Reeves, St. Joseph in Ponchatoula; Tim Moran, St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge; Joanne Grantham, St. Jude the Apostle in Baton Rouge; Dean Hooker, St. Louis King of France in Baton Rouge; Simone Hamilton, St. Michael the Archangel in Baton Rouge; Paul Beier, St. Peter Chanel in Paulina; Alan Marrero, St. Theresa Middle/St. John Primary in Gonzales/Prairieville; Lauren Sampey, St. Thomas Aquinas in Hammond; and Jennifer Harris, St. Thomas More in Baton Rouge.