There were several standing ovations. Tears filled her eyes on several occasions. The love Arlis DeJaynes felt on April 21 was real and profound. DeJaynes, an English teacher and department head at St. Teresa High School in Decatur, was the winner of the 2021 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Bishop Thomas John Paprocki presented DeJaynes with the award during a surprise celebration at St. Teresa High School.
The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award recognizes one Catholic teacher who is making a big difference in the classroom, who authentically lives out what it means to be Catholic and instills the Catholic faith into her students, and who embodies St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded Catholic schools in the United States.
Students, teachers, staff, former students and colleagues, and several priests were present at the surprise celebration and award presentation to honor and thank DeJaynes for her 35 years of teaching at the school. She is retiring at the end of the year. Fighting through tears and heavy emotions, DeJaynes says that she was honored and humbled by the recognition as she spoke to everyone inside the gym.
“It isn’t often you get an English teacher speechless,” DeJaynes said. “I thank all of you, but more than anything, I know that whatever path I have been led on, in Jeremiah, it says that God will direct your path, and I think the path that I’ve been on has been a long and winding road and sometimes we go kicking and screaming down that path, but we are put on that path for a reason. All of you have met me on my path. Every one of you and my students in the past have made my life different because of that path. God bless you. I appreciate everything you have done. Thank you very much. It is an honor I will never forget.”
The Office for Catholic Schools and Office for Communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, organizers of the award, received nearly 100 total nominations. In all, 36 teachers were nominated — from all corners of the diocese. A team consisting of former educators in the diocese poured through the nominations and read all the stories of impact about each teacher, narrowing the list to five finalists. In the end, DeJaynes rose to the top.
“Mrs. DeJaynes was the teacher that taught more than a subject,” said Kaylee Kleist, a former student. “She taught me life lessons and always shared some of her stories to encourage us to get back up when we get knocked down. I still remember her quotes today that have helped me get through hard times. Mrs. DeJaynes was so talented in many different ways and so kind to every student. She worked hard, cared about her students, and was willing to help anyone who needed it, even if it meant taking time out of her busy day. I would not be where I am today without her.”
“Mrs. DeJaynes has always been an inspiration to me,” said Caleigh Craft, a current student. “The way she lives her life, through God, and with such intelligence and grace is something so truly amazing as well as something I wish to always emulate. She truly cares about all her students, and I personally can feel that. She has not only made me a much better writer and student, but also a better person. I will always carry with me what she has taught me these last two years.”
“Mrs. DeJaynes spent hours helping me prepare for college,” said Charlie Blackburn, a former student. “She proofread every essay I wrote for every application and scholarship and wrote me multiple letters of recommendation. More than that, she was always willing to listen to our problems and give us advice.”
“I found Arlis to be extraordinarily dedicated to her students and to St. T,” said Bishop Carl Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita, a former colleague of DeJaynes. “She is a wonderful example of a Christian disciple. Her students respect and admire her. Any Catholic school would be blessed to have her on staff.”
There are 43 Catholic schools in the diocese (36 elementary, seven high schools). Stay tuned in early 2022 as the diocese will announce how to submit names of teachers for the 2022 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.