Students from St. Matthew School respond during an all-school call out Jan. 30 at the Arizona Capitol. They counted themselves among nearly 1,000 students from Arizona’s Catholic schools who thanked legislators for tax credit laws.
Students from St. Matthew School respond during an all-school call out Jan. 30 at the Arizona Capitol. They counted themselves among nearly 1,000 students from Arizona’s Catholic schools who thanked legislators for tax credit laws.

Students throughout the Diocese of Phoenix spent Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27-Feb. 2 celebrating the gift of faith-filled classes. They attended Mass, participated in days of appreciation for parents, volunteers and teachers, and found ways to thank legislators and taxpayers who sustain their education.

“The academics are amazing. I never would have gotten to where I am academically without it,” Carolina Cisneros, a seventh-grader at St. Louis the King in Glendale, said about her lifelong Catholic education. “The teachers really push you to do your best.”

Rae Bell, a junior at St. Mary’s High School, transferred out of the public system as a freshman. She said she has learned a lot more about her faith in the last three years.

Her friend, Denise Denogean, also a junior, has grown up in Catholic school. She said faith is important to her and she wouldn’t trade the Catholic school experience for the world.

“It shapes who we are today, to grow up to be mature young ladies,” Denogean said.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, bishop of Tucson, told largely Phoenix-area students during an all-school liturgy that they were the fertile ground on which Catholic schools are growing. God plants the seed of faith in every person and wants them to grow as beautifully as possible so that others will want to model that same beauty.

“He calls us now to spread that seed of faith so that others might get to know Him,” the bishop said.

Before the final blessing, MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Phoenix’s five diocesan high schools and 29 elementary schools, bestowed the prestigious St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award on two people who have dedicated decades of their lives to Catholic education. The award, granted only in years that a principal, school board or diocesan school board nominates a candidate, honors the impact a person has had on Catholic education through leadership, vision and dedication.

Franciscan Sister Martha Carpenter, principal at St. Peter Indian Mission School in Bapchule, could hardly contain her emotions while Mueller read the difference the teacher/principal has made to students over the last 30 years. Sr. Martha wears a black habit, but under it sits a plethora of hats from counselor to nurse to mentor, finance director and head of maintenance “as well as avid Green Bay Packers fan,” Mueller said.

Sr. Martha has made so many positive decisions in her 23 years as principal that the tribal reservation often uses the school as an example, Mueller continued, noting that it’s a remarkable school thanks to the sister’s devotion.

Mueller also honored Tom Reilly, currently an administrative assistant at St. Mary’s High School who also edits the school’s monthly newsletter and alumni newsletter. Reilly started there nearly 25 years ago. He was looking for something more fulfilling and met the principal during a retirement party.

Reilly moved from volunteer government and economics teacher to adviser — writing countless resumes and letters of recommendation along the way — to admissions to development and marketing to public relations editor. Many of his students were first-generation high school graduates.

“This is why we have Catholic Schools Week,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said after personally handing each recipient a certificate. This is “how the Holy Spirit is at work, now in 2013 and how His inspiration, His grace has lifted up amazing leaders.”

After Mass, nearly 1,000 students from across Arizona filled the lawn at the state Capitol for a rally. They heard from the state leaders who lobbied to create, protect and increase tax credits for donors supporting tuition organizations. After the rally, some high school students personally met with legislators to share their stories.

Pete Hill, executive vice president of National Bank of Arizona and a local Catholic, offered $250,000 in corporate matching gifts if taxpayers take advantage of the individual tax credit as a first-time donor. The match runs through April 15 or when funds are used.

“It was really a chance to salute the work we’re doing with the schools and salute our donors who make it all possible,” Paul Mulligan, president and CEO of Catholic Education Arizona, told The Catholic Sun.

Catholic Schools Week

To get involved with Catholic schools, consider joining the Diocesan School Board. An enrolled student is not required. For an application or info: or (602) 254-2344 by April 1.