Bishop W. Shawn McKnight struck up a harmonious conversation with several hundred catechists and teachers who are actively engaged in the formation of young Catholic disciples.
“Tonight I’m with the choir of the Church,” he told a capacity crowd at the Jefferson City Knights of Columbus Hall on Jan. 28.
It was the annual Religious and Teacher Appreciation Dinner cosponsored by the Knights’ Fr. Helias Council 1054, Bishop McAuliffe Council 12992 and Msgr. Pleus Council 14906.
Honored guests included the teachers and staff of Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph Cathedral and St. Peter schools and Helias Catholic High School and the city’s three Parish School of Religion programs.
“You play a critical role in the mission of the Church, especially in the mission of our parishes,” Bishop McKnight told them.
He thanked the teachers and catechists for their commitment to Catholic education and for the sacrifices they make to carry-out their important work.
“You are teaching our young people not only about the catechism of the faith but about how God is present in our world in so many different ways and how He can be encountered, how we can experience God, in creation, science, mathematics and literature,” the bishop said.
He recounted a discussion he recently participated in at the Vatican with Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Church’s Congregation for Catholic Education.
“The cardinal made it very clear that when you’re talking about a Catholic school, it is the faculty above all else that preserves the institution as being Catholic,” the bishop recounted.
“I recognize that as well,” he said. “Your faith is very important to me as well as to the parents of the children that we have entrusted to your care.”
The grand knights of all three councils echoed the bishop’s appreciation.
“We Knights are supposed to be defenders of the faith,” Danny Vaught, grand knight of the Msgr. Pleus Council, told the catechists and educators, “but our schoolteachers are right behind us. You prop us up. We really appreciate that.”
Joining the bishop at the head table were Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, diocesan vicar general and pastor of St. Michael parish in Russellville; Kenya Fuemmeler, interim diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools; Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic High School and administrator of St. Martin parish in St. Martins.
Msgr. Kurwicki led the prayer before the meal.
“We feel Your presence here tonight among these outstanding, dedicated Catholic professionals,” he prayed. “We ask You to bless them, to bless their families, to bless their students and the alumni of the schools that they represent.”
The priest asked God to fill everyone present with the holiness and zeal of St. Thomas Aquinas, “who changed the world by being not only a good student but an excellent teacher.”
The annual dinner has been a Catholic Schools Week tradition since Fr. Helias Council member Ron Vossen started it about 30 years ago.
Dan Smith of the same council, and his wife Kathy have been organizing the event for the past several years.
Members of all three councils and ladies’ auxiliaries prepared the food and staffed the event.
The grand knights presented donations to the schools and PSR programs, as well as the Vogelweid Learning Center at St. Peter Interparish School, the Diocesan Excellence in Education Fund, and the diocesan Catholic School Office.
The money came from several fundraisers the Knights councils held throughout the previous year.
“Thank you all for that you do for our kids and for our Church,” Michael Flanagan, grand knight of the Fr. Helias council, told the guests.
The bishop closed the evening by giving his blessing.