One "artist" educator who was honored at the event was Sister Dominica Rocchio, a Sister of Charity who is a former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Newark. Sister Dominica was the recipient of a major award at the NCEAconvention.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said many call Michelangelo the greatest artist ever because of his sculptures such as "The Pieta," which depicts Mary holding her son Jesus after His crucifixion.
The marble sculpture, on display near the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, manages to convey both Christ's acceptance of suffering and his "full confidence in his mother," the archbishop said.
"But I think the greatest artists of the world are teachers, because you sculpt the best of what you are-not in a piece of marble but in human beings who are the glory of God," he said.
"Each of us has forgotten a lot of what we were told in school," he added, "but a lot of what's inside us is from the example of teachers."
Archbishop Sambi said he was the son and brother of schoolteachers and that Pope Benedict, from whom he brought greetings, "understands perfectly the labors, the greatness" and the usefulness of the mission of education, since he was "a teacher for a large part of his life."
Based in Washington D.C., Archbishop Sambi addressed Catholics in the Church in Newark late last year in a public letter that congratulated Archbishop John J. Myers on the 40th anniversary of his priesthood (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 6, 2006). Archbishop Sambi became the apostolic nuncio or ambassador of the Holy See to the United States on March 9, 2006.
An estimated 10,000 people attended the Baltimore Convention Center during the April 10-14 NCEA conference on the theme "Anchor of Faith, Harbor of Light." Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore; Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York; Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington D.C., chairman of the NCEA board of directors; Karen Ristau, NCEA president; and Ron Valenti, superintendent of schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese, also addressed the opening session of the convention.
Several speakers noted the historical importance of the choice of Baltimore as the site of the convention because it was the first Catholic diocese in the United States and once the home of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, considered the founder of the U.S. Catholic school system.
Archbishop Wuerl said the role of teachers in Catholic schools is "not just the communication of information, but to show a way of life, encourage a vision and participate in the unfolding of God's mission." "You have no way of knowing if the seeds you plant will bear fruit in the future, but you continue to sow," said Cardinal Keeler.
Ristau presented two major NCEA awards to Catherine Hickey, secretary for education and superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New York, and Sister Dominica Rocchio, a Sister of Charity who is a former superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Newark.
Cardinal Egan noted that he had been "a student of these two teachers" who taught him to begin each morning with a salute.
"Sister Dominica liked to hear my heels click as well," he said with a laugh. "Dr. Hickey is not so demanding."
He praised Sister Dominica, who received the C. Albert Koob Merit Award given annually to a distinguished Catholic educator, for her commitment to inner-city Catholic secondary schools. In New York, where each inner-city Catholic high school has at least 65 percent of the student body living below the poverty line, 98 percent of the students graduate in four years and 95 percent go on to college, Cardinal Egan said.
"If any other system were doing the same thing, they would be bringing in truckloads of money to make it work," he added.
Sister Dominica, who grew up in the East Harlem section of New York during the 1950s, served as high school superintendent of the Archdiocese of New York for 12 years, prior to arriving at the Archdiocese of Newark in 1992. Initially she held the post of superintendent of Newark Archdiocese schools and in 1995 she took on the added title of secretary of education. Last year Sister Dominica stepped down from her education leadership positions for the Church in Newark and was replaced by Father Kevin M. Hanbury, Ed.D., a move that became official on July 1 (see The Catholic Advocate, Feb. 22, 2006).
Hickey, who received the Msgr. John F. Meyers Award for outstanding support of Catholic education, heads a system made up of 279 schools "and she knows every principal and every problem, and every pastor as well," the cardinal said.