CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
In a nationwide contest where more than 17,000 votes were cast, two teachers who serve the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Schools were singled out for their outstanding contributions to Catholic education.
Colleen Jentges of St. John XXIII School in Port Washington and Lawrie Pietrowiak of St. Leonard School in Muskego were two of the top three vote-getters in the 2019-20 Catholic Financial Life Give Back Contest, which was open to any Catholic elementary, middle or high school teacher within the United States.
As two of the top three teachers honored in the contest, Jentges and Pietrowiak were each awarded a $500 cash prize for their own personal use as well as a $4,000 donation to their school. The presentation of the prizes took place at two award ceremonies where Jentges’ and Pietrowiak’s school communities were able to celebrate their special recognition.
Jentges described the award as “deeply moving,” while Pietrowiak said it made her feel “humbled and honored.”
More than 130 teachers were nominated in the contest. This is the fourth year Catholic Financial Life has held its Give Back Contest. Previous themes have included a variety of different topics surrounding Catholic education, but for 2019-20, “We asked for nominations of Catholic school teachers across the country that exhibited a remarkable dedication to transforming the lives of their students grounded in the teachings of Jesus,” said Vicki Vlach, manager of corporate communications and events for Catholic Financial Life.
Submissions were narrowed by votes cast by students, teachers, parents and community members during the week of Jan. 13. Winners were announced during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 26 to Feb. 1.
Both Pietrowiak and Jentges insist the recognition from Catholic Financial Life is an honor they share with their school communities.
“There is an old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I think it takes a village to raise a teacher as well,” said Pietrowiak, who herself is the granddaughter of four teachers. “I am so fortunate to be in a community that values not only our students, but we value one another.”
Jentges has served Catholic students of the Port Washington/Saukville area for 40 years, beginning at St. Mary Parish School, which later became Port Catholic and has now evolved to become St. John XXIII Parish School. Her greatest joy, she said, is preparing her second-grade students to receive their First Reconciliation and First Communion.
Jentges said she did not realize “the widespread nature” of the contest until she won, and was taken aback by the acclaim. “I am not lucky, don’t gamble or play the lottery and I am not competitive by nature,” she said. “All I know is that I am on God’s team — and whatever may happen — it is in his hands.”
St. Leonard principal Lisa Ellis described Pietrowiak as “a natural at making connections with students” — a dedicated teacher who both partners with families and shares experiences from her own life as learning opportunities for her students.
“You can tell when she teaches and in conversations with students that she becomes very animated when she gets deep into a story,” said Ellis. “She is so deserving of this award because of her unwavering dedication to her work, and you would never know it because she is a humble person, and often will say ‘I’m just doing my job.’”
Pietrowiak said that she plans to donate her prize winnings back to the school’s library book fund.
St. John XXIII Pastor Fr. Patrick Wendt described Jentges as a dedicated, caring teacher who truly strives to set the example of a joyfully lived Catholic faith for her students. Her witness, he said, “blesses all her classes.” St. John XXIII principal Kristine Klein described her as a personal inspiration — “to be a better leader and a more devoted disciple.”
“Colleen teaches all children and those around her to put Jesus first and by doing that you will find joy in life,” said Klein.
“I am blessed — not because I did something good, but because God is good,” said Jentges. “He continues to bless me every day, and teaching children about their faith is always a blessing. For me, there is no greater reward than teaching, sharing and engaging children in our Catholic Faith.”
To read more about Pietrowiak and Jentges, visit the contest website at https://catholicfinanciallife.org/join/givebackcontest2019/winners.