By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

Volunteers were honored during the annual Mother Seton Award luncheon May 7, hosted by the Diocesan Home and School Association of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Twenty-five recipients from Catholic schools throughout the diocese were recognized for their hard work, support and dedication to Catholic education.  


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Molly Kate Skupien, a fifth-grader at St. George School in Baton Rouge, is awarded 2019 Student of the Year for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. She is joined by Bishop Michael G. Duca and Dr. Melanie Verges, superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese.  Photos by Bonn Van | The Catholic Commentator  


“These are the cream of the crop, these are the people that make Catholic schools what they are because where would we be without our volunteers?” said Renèe Tullier, president of the Home and School Association. “Volunteerism is at an all-time low so that’s why it’s really important to honor these people and to recognize them and try to get them to encourage others to do what they do.”  

Father Cleo Milano, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge, prayed the blessing before lunch was served at Drusilla Place Catering in Baton Rouge. He was followed by guest speaker Bishop Michael G. Duca, who talked about meeting the alumni of a closed Catholic high school in Shreveport and learning of the important influence of the neighborhood surrounding a school, filled with watchful parents and neighbors who made sure the youth behaved respectfully.  

“When you talk about the neighborhood, you’re also talking about the family and it reminded me about how important, in the education of any young person today, the place of the family … and the Home and School Association is really an extension of that presence in a school,” said Bishop Duca.  

The bishop spoke about how schools have evolved into providing more than just classroom instruction, with many students receiving their only meal, or meals, of the day at school.  

“So we’re picking up something that was before provided by the family and that happens in so many different ways. So the work of a teacher needs the assistance of aids in their classroom, volunteers who come to take up some of that load and be part of that educational process is what makes any school, certainly our Catholic schools, great,” said the bishop. “Any way that parents can help teachers and support them in their work, it’s just going to make them better teachers and free them up for the task at hand.  

“I commend the work of the Home and School (Association) for providing that kind of support that completes our education and takes on some of the burden that schools have to take on now in this new era that we’re in, where there are different needs of the children, which we provide, joyfully provide, which we can only do if teachers have that support.”  

“Today, I want to thank the Home and School Association and all those that are a part of that for your good work, for the way in which you support the teachers, for the way you are that ‘neighborhood’ that’s surrounding the students as they enter in their learning, and continue to support them and encourage them into accomplishing that good work,” said Bishop Duca.  

He also thanked the Catholic Schools Office, faculty members and pastors.  

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Isabella Marie Bull, an eighth-grader at St. Jean Vianney School in Baton Rouge, accepts the 2019 Student of the Year Award from Bishop Duca and Verges. 


“Every pastor has a different view of taking on a church parish with a school. Some run to them and some don’t run to them, they admire them from afar, but the pastors that do have schools, I want to commend them,” said the bishop, asking pastors to stand up and be recognized.  

Dr. Melanie Verges, superintendent of Catholic schools, talked about how Catholic school students had completed 200,000 student community service hours, recorded above average scores on national standardized tests and how schools had completed strategic financial planning. She also noted the expansion of special education services, with 200 students registered for the 2019-20 school year. And, she thanked members of the Home and School Association for their assistance in supporting Catholic schools.  

“Volunteers are truly the heart of our schools,” Verges said. “They are invaluable in achieving the vision of evangelizing hearts, educating minds, encouraging talent and embracing the future. Students achieve more and reach higher standards because of dedicated teachers, administrators, clergy and parent volunteers.”  

Also honored at the luncheon were Diocesan Students of the Year: fifth-grader Molly Kate  Skupien from St. George School in Baton Rouge; eighth-grader Isabella Marie Bull from St. Jean Vianney School in Baton Rouge; and senior Kashish Wadhwa from St. Thomas Aquinas School in Hammond, who was unable to attend because of College Advanced Placement exams.  

“It’s been a really great experience and I’m really glad that I got to do it,” stated Skupien, who said the hardest part of being selected was the interview process. “I had a lot of interviews to get to where I am right now. They asked a lot of stuff about school and religion and they asked a lot about subjects.”  

“I think it’s a great honor because I’m really excited that all the hard work got to pay off, and also it’s just a great title to be able to have,” said Bull.  

“She was very happy, surprised, she was honored (to be selected),” said Jyoti Gagneja, mother of Wadhwa. Wadhwa’s mother and father, Parveen Kumar, attended the luncheon to represent their daughter who will be studying pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship.  

The 25 honorees of the Mother Seton Award are Rachel Broussard, Ascension Catholic School in Donaldsonville; Stephanie Riegel Woolverton, Catholic High School in Baton Rouge; Megan Sanders, Catholic School of Pointe Coupee in New Roads; Pat Clough, Holy Family School in Port Allen; Greta Foster, Holy Ghost School in Hammond; Tina Johnson, Mater Dolorosa School in Independence; Jennifer Taffaro, Most Blessed Sacrament School in Baton Rouge; Paul Catalanatto, Our Lady of Mercy School in Baton Rouge; Jamie Haymond, Redemptorist St. Gerard School in Baton Rouge; Bobbie Hunter, Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Baton Rouge; Regina Leonard, St. Aloysius School in Baton Rouge; Kristy Ponvelle, St. Alphonsus Ligouri School in Greenwell Springs; Claire Blanchard, St. Elizabeth School in Paincourtville; Paula Northern, St. Francis Xavier School in Baton Rouge; John Edwards, St. George School in Baton Rouge; Cherie Hardouin, St. Jean Vianney School in Baton Rouge; Donna Carville, St. John the Evangelist School in Plaquemine; Johnny Cieutat, St. Joseph School in Ponchatoula; Dan Boudreaux, St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge; Stephanie Mayeaux, St. Jude the Apostle School in Baton Rouge; Lori Steib, St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge; Michelle LeBlanc, St. Peter Chanel School in Paulina; Danielle Callais Waguespack, St. Theresa of Avila School/St. John Primary in Gonzales/Prairieville; Michelle Trapen, St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond; and Christine Hosea, St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge.