By Colleen Rowan

MORGANTOWN—The diocese’s Catholic schools community gathered in Morgantown March 22 to honor several individuals for their steadfast support of Catholic education and students who have shined as model youth.

The annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools, sponsored by the West Virginia Knights of Columbus, was held at the Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown, where Bishop Bransfield presented the Bishop’s Cross to William Barrett, a history teacher at Madonna High School in Weirton; Robert Contraguerro Sr., a supporter of St. Vincent de Paul School and Parish in Wheeling; Msgr. Lawrence J. Luciana, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Huntington; Jeff Smay, a theology teacher at Central Catholic High School in Wheeling; and Thomas Stark, a supporter of St. Patrick School in Weston.

One student from each of the 25 diocesan grade and elementary schools and the seven diocesan high schools were presented with the Aquinas Medal, which recognizes their activities at school and in the community that reflect the ideals of Catholic education epitomized by St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of students.

The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Bransfield at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Morgantown, where he recognized the support for Catholic schools by the Bishop’s Cross recipients and the service of Aquinas Medal recipients.

“It is a great joy to be here to recognize the people who make possible the wonderful experience of Catholic education,” Bishop Bransfield said in his homily. “I congratulate each one of you.”

The bishop described Catholic education as a way to preach the Gospel in a beautiful way. It is “our attempt to influence the world and the culture we live in with our values, love of God and love of neighbor,” he said.

He asked all present to pray for Catholic schools that they continue to be present for students.

In her speech at the dinner, Sister Elaine Poitras, CSC, Ph.D., superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools, talked about the significance and mission of Catholic schools.

“We know that we are peopling the next generation of Church, of government, of society,” she said. “The children we have in kindergarten, remember, will be the movers and shakers of this world in 15 years. What and how we teach them today will make a difference.”

As the end of the first decade of the 21st century approaches, she said, “it is increasingly clear that spiritual, developmental and educational needs of the millennial child differ greatly from those of the child of even the fairly recent past.”

She then recognized the support Catholic schools receive from teachers, principals, students, school supporters and staff, families and diocesan staff.

A video depicting the support each Bishop’s Cross recipient has given to his school was shown, and Bishop Bransfield presented the cross, which is a replica of Bishop Emeritus Bernard W. Schmitt’s pectoral cross, to them.

Those receiving the Bishop’s Cross and Aquinas Medal, Sister Elaine said prior to the dinner, “bring to life the very mission of Catholic school education and remind us of its essential importance in both strengthening the Church and enriching the civic community presently and for the future.”

Barrett has taught history at Madonna High School for 47 years. He has served as athletic director at the school for 28 years and now serves as moderator for the 2009 senior class. In honor of his years of service and dedication to Catholic school education, the gymnasium at Madonna displays Barrett’s name. Barrett is a constant advocate for the unborn and is involved in pro-life advancement. Barrett was named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year in 1999 and lives in Weirton with his wife, Jean.

Contraguerro has been involved with St. Vincent de Paul School and Parish for more than 25 years. In addition to serving on the athletic board, he was head football coach at St. Vincent’s for 13 years and continues to serve on many committees, including the parish festival, parish maintenance and fundraising committees. A benefactor and supporter of the school and Catholic education, Contraguerro was involved with the school for many years through the activities of his four children, Bob Jr., Stacy, Tom and Josh. He continues to support many activities and programs throughout the diocese and lives in Wheeling with his wife, Jody.

Msgr. Luciana has served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish since 1997 and is pastor of St. Joseph Grade School and St. Joseph Central Catholic High School in Huntington. Under his auspices and through his untiring love of Catholic education, a new 21st century school building was erected in Huntington recently. Msgr. Luciana is known for his devotion to every aspect of pastoral care. He is described by those close to him as an exemplary administrator, an inspiring preacher and a consummate evangelizer, having brought untold numbers into the Church wherever he has been assigned. He was ordained a priest in 1963.

Smay has been involved in Catholic education in the diocese for more than 33 years. For almost two generations, he has taught theology to high school students. Smay is currently the campus minister at Central Catholic High School in Wheeling and the coordinator of Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) and National Evangelization Team (NET) retreats. He developed peer ministry and leads a group to the March for Life in Washington every year. Smay is involved in Guys and Girls United to Serve (GUTS) and serves as lector, retreat director and confirmation program speaker at Corpus Christi Parish in Wheeling. Smay has six children and resides in Wheeling with his wife, Carole.

Stark has been actively involved at St. Patrick School since 1988. He is currently treasurer of the School Advisory Board, helped establish the preschool and pre-kindergarten programs at St. Patrick’s and installed the first computer lab for students. He was instrumental in beginning the St. Patrick School Charitable Foundation and the Stonewall Jackson Arts and Crafts Jubilee booth. Stark has two children and lives in Weston with his wife, Debbie.

Principals then presented the Aquinas Medal to recipients from their schools.