The message at the annual Catholic Schools Faith Formation Day was clear: Catholic school personnel are valued and what they do matters and changes lives.

Both keynote speaker Msgr. Richard Lavalley and Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Burlington Jeanne Gearon emphasized the importance of Catholic school educators as they addressed the gathering of 225 at St. Michael’s College in Colchester Oct. 7.

“In many cases, you are [students’] connection to God,” said Msgr. Lavalley, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, which includes St. Francis Xavier School. “I am looking at great tools of evangelization in the State of Vermont.”

But people cannot give what they don’t have, so he emphasized the need for them to continue to grow in their faith. “I can teach about Jesus, but I’ve got to teach beginning with my own life and relationship with God,” he said. “The challenge is to bring Christ to people, but I’ve got to have Him” first. “We are role models. We have to be loving people, and we have to love them in Christ and prepare them for the world they’re going into.”

Msgr. Lavalley offered two lessons from his vast collection of stories. One came from a Missionary Sister of Africa, Sister Germaine: “We take care of God’s poor in Africa. Pray for us. Jesus said, ‘Without me you can do nothing.’”

“I thought I had to do it all. I thought we had to do it all, and I felt ashamed,” Msgr. Lavalley said, reiterating that Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.”

The second lesson he offered came from one of his seminary teachers: “What a person is in the eyes of God that they are and nothing more.”

He encouraged the educators to stir up the grace of God within them. “You are so special, truly you are,” he said.

Msgr. Lavalley also reminded them that their job is not to “keep public school on their toes,” but their mission is the teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring their students to Him. “Pray. Pray. Pray. Bring them to Jesus Christ. Yours may be the only hand that will ever lead them.”

He concluded with this heartfelt comment, “For what you do and who you are, thank you.”

Lynn Cartularo, principal of Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury, said Msgr. Lavalley’s address was “a good reminder of what we’re here to do.”

His affirmation “recharges” the Catholic educators, she added. “He really touched the hearts of teachers.”

Gearon, the school superintendent, added her own words of affirmation to the gathering of personnel from the Diocese’s dozen Catholic schools. “What we do matters. How we do it matters, and who we do it for matters,” she said, adding that what each of their students does “after they encounter us as teachers” matters.

She said that what the educators do each day changes lives in deep and meaningful ways. “As important as it is that we teach people to read … it’s even more beautiful that we teach them to read, understand and live the book written by the author of all life,” she said.

Gearon also called upon the educators to choose their words carefully because they too are important and can change lives.

Mike Callahan, a religion teacher at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, appreciated the opportunity to attend the Faith Formation Day and found Msgr. Lavalley’s keynote especially uplifting. “We teach by the way we act,” he said. “I’m always trying to be enthusiastic and model the behavior I want to see” from students.

The daylong event included Mass at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, small group discussions and school-specific sharing.

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