Promoting Catholic Identity

Matt Sumers (c) of Catholic Textbook Project with representatives from St. Brigid of Kildare School. Copyright 2019 Lisa Julia Photography/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

St. Brigid of Kildare School in Dublin, Ohio, wins Innovations in Catholic Education Award

By Victoria R. LaFave

Today’s Catholic Teacher honored the winners of the 22nd annual Innovations in Catholic Education Award on April 24, 2019, at a special event during the NCEA Conference in Chicago. Awards are given in four categories: promoting Catholic identity; technology integration; curriculum and instruction; and total community involvement, including fundraising.

See the list of 2019 Innovations in Catholic Education winners and finalists in all categories

The 2019 winner of the award for promoting Catholic identity is ST. Brigid of Kildare School (SBK) in Dublin, Ohio. Matt Sumers from the Catholic Textbook Project, who sponsored the prize, presented the award to the PreK–8 school, which serves 545 students in the Diocese of Columbus.

“We are humbled and grateful that our project was found to be worthy of such a great honor,” SBK Vice-Principal Cindy Lombardo told TCT.

“In the midst of everything that administrators and teachers are called to do in our schools today, we have to find concrete ways every day to keep our Catholic identity at the forefront of what we do,” Lombardo continued. “We can’t just talk the talk or post a mission statement; we are called to walk this path every day with our students.”

The award-winning program at SBK was created to help students understand and visualize what it truly means to live as Catholic disciples.
Principal Kathy O’Reilly observed that although their task sometimes feels like a daunting one, it is of utmost importance: “Our Lord’s words compel the faithful to an enormous task: Go out, teach, and make disciples of all people. The faculty at St. Brigid of Kildare School has worked to answer this call by developing a model for illustrating, instructing, and assessing our students’ roles as modern-day disciples.”

Eighth-grade student disciples at St. Brigid of Kildare School model discipleship for younger scholars. Photo courtesy of St. Brigid of Kildare School.

Lombardo described the process: “We began with an ambitious goal: to increase our students’ understanding of their call to discipleship. We were first tasked with unpacking this for our students: What is a disciple? How does a disciple act? When and where should we act as disciples? To answer these questions, we determined that student disciples should be kind, respectful, responsible, and ready to learn at all times and in all places.

“We then needed to illustrate these tenets for our students,” Lombardo explained. “Teachers provided visuals and scenarios to help students visualize disciples in action who are kind, respectful, responsible, and ready to learn. Once we had a working model, the children could picture themselves acting and living as disciples in a new, fresh way. ‘Disciple’ was no longer just a word — it had a quantifiable meaning. This also meant that teachers and students could evaluate students on their consistency with and dedication to these principles.”

Using this model, a Student Discipleship Rubric was created, allowing students to self-assess their progress and allowing teachers to assess students. This rubric is shared with parents quarterly, and students discuss their academic and discipleship progress with parents three times a year as part of their student-led conference model.

“Our faculty wanted our pillars of discipleship to be visible everywhere, so in 2017 we revised our mission statement with five new final words: ‘The St. Brigid of Kildare School community provides Catholic faith formation and strong academic foundations to develop lifelong learners, compassionate leaders, and dedicated disciples of Christ.’ We were committed to this process for the long-term.”

The SBK school board also joined in the project with a monthly “Bring a Disciple to Mass” initiative. Students in one grade per month invited someone to join them for the weekly school Mass. This highly successful program has now become part of their yearly scheduling.

A classroom display of discipleship rules for younger students at St. Brigid of Kildare School. Photo courtesy of St. Brigid of Kildare School.

Lombardo noted that another result of the school’s discipleship focus was wonderfully unexpected: “We were able to rewrite our previous bulky code of conduct within the framework of our discipleship tenets. Our code of conduct and technology policy now simply state that behavior must be consistent with our discipleship model. This simple but clear framework allows us to cut away layers of regulations, because disciples of Jesus are kind and respectful always.

“Even our posted cafeteria rules contain this first expectation: ‘Student disciples will be kind, respectful, responsible, and ready to learn in all places and at all times.’ Disciples at our school have been given a clear model by which to live and by which to measure their words and actions,” she explained. “Students are now able to measure their own actions with the understanding of how Jesus calls us to live. They readily share our model, reminding others to walk as disciples.

As one student recently said, ‘I really want to be a disciple for Jesus. My teachers have helped me to know what that means and how to do that.’”

Learn more about St. Brigid of Kildare School:

Copyright 2018 Lisa Julia Photography/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

Catholic Textbook Project also presented awards to two finalists for their schools’ innovative project in promoting Catholic identity at the April 24 event. St. Veronica School in Howell, New Jersey, was praised for its “Rejoice and Be Glad” STREAM Project, and the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland, for its program fostering Christ-centered student leadership.

St. Veronica School (SVS) serves 146 students in the Diocese of Trenton. Each year, faculty, staff and students at SVS strive to live a religious theme chosen for that year. For 2018–2019, the school’s theme was “Rejoice and Be Glad!”

At the beginning of the school year, the students and staff at SVS incorporated Religion into their STEAM program to ensure that they live Catholic teachings in their everyday lives. The teachers at SVS recognize and share the joy of the Gospel daily. They are called to bring the presence of Christ to the children; together, they created a STREAM event to celebrate “Rejoice and Be Glad!”

Students from PreK through grade eight chose a beatitude to study, including the beatitude as a behavior or virtue. Individual classes presented their projects through art, architecture, dance, drama, games, music, and photography. The children studied and learned what it means to be poor in spirit, meek, compassionate, pure in heart, and merciful, along with what it means to yearn for righteousness and desire justice. Teachers helped the students realize that we must seek holiness in God’s eyes.

Seventh-graders at St. Veronica School create a memory quilt. Photo courtesy of St. Veronica School.

“The Beatitudes give spirit to the Law of the Ten Commandments,” SVS principal Sr. Cherree Ann Power said. “That spirit is ultimately the spirit of love. Jesus taught that love is the heart of all law.”

She continued: “Our strong vision of our Catholic faith and commitment to put that faith into action in an educational environment was recognized by Today’s Catholic Teacher. I am grateful to our teachers and students who have worked hard on this beatitude project. However, I am more grateful for their efforts to work as people of God together on the path to holiness.”

Learn more about St. Veronica School, reopening in September 2019 as Mother Seton Academy:

The second finalist, the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (SCMOQ) in Baltimore, Maryland, prepares students for the future by delivering an innovative education, challenging them to be creative problem solvers, and live a life in Christ. This vision is supported through leadership programs within the school, which serves 359 students in grades K–8 in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Middle-school students are paired with faculty advisors to foster development of academic and social skills. The program includes monthly activities with student prayer buddies, guest speakers focusing on leadership, and a weekly social justice class designed to teach students about social issues in today’s world and provide service opportunities that prepare them as global citizens.

As part of a service project, students from The School of the Cathedral sort food donations. Photo courtesy of the School of the Cathedral.

Each grade level focuses on topics such as servant leadership and social justice. Finally, students complete their experience in eighth grade by preparing for the Faith in Focus Leadership Conference during their Social Justice in Action course.

The Leadership Conference is the culmination of SCMOQ’s social justice program, the only program of its kind in the area. The conference calls forth eighth-grade students to serve as leaders by inspiring members of the community to live their faith more intentionally. “It’s a great way for students to link our Catholic social teaching with what is going on in society today,” Principal Michael Wright told TCT.

The School of the Cathedral’s advisory program fosters development of academic and social skills. Photo courtesy of the School of the Cathedral.

“We are proud of our social justice program, which builds leadership and Catholic identity through a three-year initiative from sixth through eighth grades,” Wright concluded. “It is certainly an honor to be a finalist. There are so many great Catholic schools out there, so it felt great to be recognized.”

Learn more about the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen:

Applications for the 2020 Innovations in Catholic Education Awards are open through November 15, 2019.

Nominate your school today!

Victoria R. LaFave writes for Today’s Catholic Teacher and for Holy Name Catholic School and Bishop Noa Home, both in Escanaba, Michigan. Several of her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.


All content copyright © Today’s Catholic Teacher/ All rights reserved. May be reproduced for classroom/parish use with full attribution as long as the content is unaltered from its original form. To request permission to reprint online, email