SCRANTON — Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant and homilist for the annual Diocesan Teachers Institute Mass on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

During the Eucharistic liturgy, which is traditionally held at the beginning of each academic year to celebrate Catholic education in the Diocese of Scranton, six educators in the Diocesan School System were honored for their commitment to being faith-filled examples to young people.

Each of the honorees received special recognition by being bestowed the Saint John Paul II Award for 25 or more years of dedicated service to Catholic education in the Diocese.

The award recipients included: Robert Andrews, Holy Cross High School in Dunmore; Daniel Banicky, Our Lady of Peace School in Clarks Green; Ann Innocenti, La Salle Academy in Jessup; Jennifer Jones, Good Shepherd Academy in Kingston; Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Kozak, Holy Rosary School in Duryea; and Janice Puhak, Holy Family Academy in Hazleton.

In welcoming the faithful to the afternoon liturgy, Kristen Donohue, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said, “As we gather for today’s Mass to celebrate the dedication and commitment of the teachers, staff and administration of the Diocese of Scranton, we also reflect on God’s strength and support for the many blessings and good health we have been afforded to do this great work.”

Donohue noted that the Diocesan Teachers Institute being held throughout the day afforded an opportunity for reflection on the untiring efforts within the various roles in the 19 Catholic schools throughout the Diocese.

“This day offers us a unique learning experience which ultimately creates the opportunity for growth,” she said.

As he announced the recipients of the Saint John Paul II Award, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Chief Executive Officer Jason Morrison lauded all Catholic school educators for creating an environment where students grow and learn.

“Most especially, they are witnesses to the faith, serving as sharers in the mission of Jesus Christ by leading young people to know, love and serve God,” he said.

Those Catholic school teachers who were on hand to receive their award from Bishop Bambera all concurred they feel blessed and honored to have been called to the “education vocation.”

“It truly is a ‘calling,’” Andrews said about his role as a geometry teacher at Holy Cross High School. “I never feel like it’s a job. I really love what I do and look forward to every day.”

Innocenti, who teaches third grade at La Salle Academy, said she is living a “wonderful vocation.”

“I loving being with the children,” she remarked, quickly adding that is of utmost importance to always bear in mind that God is “our Master Teacher. He is always with us.”

As a seventh and eighth grade instructor of science and social studies at Our Lady of Peace School, Banicky remarked, “I totally enjoy teaching.”

“There’s a new adventure every day,” he said. “No two days are alike.”

Her fellow educators and award-recipients echoed Kozak’s comments when she offered, “It’s a blessing to be able to do what we do.”

They were also in total agreement with the Holy Rosary School fifth grade teacher’s strong belief that each Diocesan Catholic school and its students form a unique, close-knit community. “We are really like an extended family,” she noted.