More than 350 supporters of Catholic education attended the 12th Annual Bishop’s Gala at Club Roma on April 10, celebrating two pillars of the system that serves 24,000 students in Niagara today.
Anna Racine, a tireless parent volunteer who has donated countless hours of her time on the Catholic School Councils at her children’s elementary and secondary schools, as well as the Niagara Catholic Parent Involvement Committee (NCPIC) and the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC), and the late Joseph Noonan, who served Catholic education for nearly 45 years as a teacher, administrator and a trustee, were the 2015 recipients of the Niagara Catholic Education Awards of Distinction.
Several members of Mr. Noonan’s family attended the celebration, including his widow Claire, who delivered a heartfelt – and often hilarious – speech about her husband’s life-long commitment to Catholic education. She recounted a story told by the late Alexander Kuska, who first hired Mr. Noonan as a teacher, at her husband’s retirement party:
“This young, cocky Irishman comes into my office and says, ‘I’m Joseph Noonan, I’m Irish, and I’m Catholic, and I won’t come for a cent less than $900,’” Mrs. Noonan recalled Mr. Kuska saying. “(He) replied, ‘My name is Alex Kuska, I’m Polish, and I’m Catholic. Sit down.’ Then Alex said, ‘I didn’t tell you then Joe, but we had already decided to pay you $1,000 for the year.”
She also spoke of her family’s gratitude at having Mr. Noonan recognized for what he always saw as his birthright as a fourth-generation Catholic educator:
“Joe’s life was one of unwavering faith, love and dedication for his family and students, and was living proof of God’s blessings,” said Mrs. Noonan. “Our family thanks for this great honour to Joe.”
Ms. Racine had family and friends on hand to share her special evening with her, and like Mrs. Noonan, she expressed her gratitude for the honour, but also for having had the honour of serving students for so many years.
“It is moments like these that remind me that Jesus came to serve, and not to be served,” she said. “I am so grateful for all of the words of congratulations that I have received, but rest assured, this award is not about me at all. Rather, it is because of so many others. And it is not, about thanking me, for all I have done, but for thanking all of you, for what you have done for me.”
The Niagara Catholic Bishop’s Gala is a signature event in the school year calendar. It is a fundraiser for the Niagara Foundation for Catholic Education.
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