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Diocesan Educators Encouraged To Light The World With Hope

Dr. Thomas Burnford addresses over 400 educators in the Mater Dei auditorium during the Back to School gathering. He repeated the 2018-2019 school theme "Lighting the World with Hope" throughout his presentation. The Message photos by Tim Lilley

What is the primary mission of Catholic Educators? Dr. Thomas Burnford, President of the National Catholic Educational Association, traveled from Washington, D.C. to Evansville to address more than 400 diocesan school teachers and administrators at the annual Back to School gathering and Mass on Aug. 3, and discuss their mission.


“What is our mission? To form people in the faith and to educate them,” said Burnford. “To integrate the two: faith and education. And integration is meaningless apart from the student.”


Burnford served as the Secretary for Education of the Archdiocese of Washington for 10 years before being appointed President and CEO of the NCEA in 2016. The NCEA is the largest private, professional education organization in the world, representing 150,000 Catholic educators serving almost 2 million students in more than 6,000 Catholic elementary and secondary schools across the United States.


The annual Back to School event, hosted by the Diocese of Evansville Catholic Schools Office, began with an opening prayer led by Father Ed Schnur, pastor of St. Wendel Parish in St. Wendel and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Poseyville. In his opening remarks, Dr. Daryl Hagan, diocesan superintendent of schools, encouraged teachers and administrators to follow the 2018-2019 school theme and to go forth, “Lighting the World with Hope.”


Burnford connected with this theme, encouraging educators to hear and act on this call.


“Lighting the world with hope - it’s not that hard,” Burnford said. “We realize that the one who is light of the world is Jesus Christ. Bring hope to the world around us, not just within the boundaries of your schools, the walls of your classrooms, the walls of your schools or the boundaries of the property.


“At this time of the church, the Holy Father is calling us to look out.  You are being called to look out and ask the question, ‘How can we light the world with hope?’”


Reading aloud from Pope Benedict’s encyclical letter “Spe Salvi,” he emphasized his favorite line, “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”


He admitted that the integration of faith and education is a challenge, and it can become tricky to find the perfect balance of the two sides of this combination. Burnford cited multiple examples of schools and students from around the country that were making great strides, regardless of student enrollment or budget constraints.


“This is our time. It’s 2018. We’re here. Those young people are going to show up and you’re going to provide them with an excellent education. You’re going to witness to them from your own encounter with the lord, from your own love of the faith, and your own witness and joy as teachers.  And for that, I am very grateful.”


Burnford took several questions from the crowd following his presentation, discussing his personal goals for the upcoming school year.


Following Dr. Burnford’s presentation, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel and many priests from the Diocese of Evansville gathered to celebrate Mass.  Bishop Siegel and Dr. Burnford also assisted Dr. Hagan, along with assistant superintendents Michelle Priar and Sally Sternberg, in presenting Catholic Educator Innovative Awards.