She received a standing ovation from her colleagues. Tears filled her eyes. She was filled with an emotional gratitude you could hear in her voice. That was the scene on Aug. 12 at Christ the King’s parish center as Bishop Thomas John Paprocki surprised Janine Desmarteau-Morris with the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois’ first annual St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.
Affectionately called “Mrs. Janine” by her students, she currently teaches Pre-K 4-year-olds at Christ the King. Last year, she taught Pre-K 3-year-olds. A parishioner at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, she has also taught at Cathedral School and Little Flower School in Springfield over her teaching career.
“I love caring for young children, so teaching specifically young children,” said Desmarteau-Morris. “I feel a real connection to young children and helping them become independent and grow educationally and spiritually. So, I feel blessed to be in a Catholic school.”
Through Catholic Times, social media, and word of mouth, we asked everyone from across the diocese of Springfield in Illinois last winter: What Catholic teacher in our schools is making a big difference in the classroom? What teacher goes above and beyond, someone who’s impact is deep and personal? What teacher authentically lives out what it means to be Catholic and instills our faith into his or her students? What teacher embodies St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded Catholic schools in the United States?
The diocese received dozens of nominations from principals, teachers, parents, and students. A team consisting of former educators in our diocese poured through the nominations and read all the stories of impact about each teacher, narrowing the list to five finalists, who were revealed in Catholic Times last April. The plan originally was to surprise Desmarteau-Morris in May, but the coronavirus canceled that, which then led to the surprise visit by Bishop Paprocki during a teachers and staff meeting at Christ the King in August. During the award ceremony, several of the stories of impact were read to everyone.
“While driving, our granddaughter heard an ambulance,” said Pat Wisniewski, a grandparent of a student who had Desmarteau-Morris. “Our granddaughter immediately said a prayer for the person in the ambulance. I asked her about it, and she said that Mrs. Janine said that it’s good to pray for someone who needs it. What a wonderful lesson to learn at age 3 — to be caring and compassionate, to ask God for help on behalf of those who need it. These are the values that we all want instilled in our children, and Mrs. Janine teaches this and more to her students daily.”
“Mrs. Janine is a wonderful early childhood educator,” said Mary Killian, a parent of a student who had Desmarteau-Morris as a teacher. “She has the perfect set of skills to let all her children feel comfortable and able to learn. She exceeds their needs both academically and emotionally. Janine also brings prayer and faith into the classroom daily, promoting kindness.”
“Mrs. Janine strives to foster a strong community and relationships in her classroom, and her students feel strongly connected to both her and each other,” said Jessica Totura, a parent of a student who had Desmarteau-Morris. “They pray for each other when students are home sick, as well as for members of each other’s families, instilling prayer and empathy in her students. She is very compassionate, patient, and loving toward her students, and teaches them important life skills in her warm, nurturing environment.”
“I wish to congratulate Mrs. Desmarteau-Morris on winning our first diocesan-wide St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award,” said Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. “Mrs. Desmarteau-Morris exemplifies what St. Elizabeth Ann Seton desired to see in classrooms — education should center around teaching about God’s love and mercy and each teacher should be an example of how to live out our Catholic faith. I want to thank all our Catholic school teachers, administrators, and staff for helping build up the kingdom of God in our diocese through their dedicated work in our Catholic schools.”
For Desmarteau-Morris, she says Catholic education is at her core as she loves being able to share God with children, pray with them, and teach them that they can go to God anytime.
Holding back tears, Desmarteau-Morris took to the podium, addressing her colleagues after receiving the award. She thanked them and said that we are all in this together and every Catholic teacher is deserving of recognition. When asked what is her message to the people of our diocese? Her response was simple: “Just keep sharing the faith with your children. Live your faith out loud every day.”