The atmosphere was one of energy and excitement, filled with applause and laughter.
“It felt more like a pep rally at most points than anything else,” said Henry Fortier, who is in his first year as the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Orlando.
But this pep rally, held Oct. 20 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and Resort, wasn’t for students, and didn’t coincide with an athletic event. Instead, the Diocesan Professional Development Day was for the close to 950 teachers, principals, presidents and other staff members that represent the 37 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Orlando. Instead of cheering and preparing for victory, attendees celebrated the work of their peers, attended the celebration Mass, visited with education exhibitors and listened to Fortier speak of the diocese’s mission and vision.
“We are a community of faith, and what we do, everything is grounded in faith, our tradition, and the fact that we look at the whole child, we educate the whole child, and that child is a gift given to us by God and their parents,” Fortier said.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Peg Portscheller, a former teacher and superintendent with four decades of educational experience. She challenged teachers and faculty to look at their teaching methods and skill sets, and to prepare students to be productive in society and to be ready for the unknowns that may come their way. Fortier expanded on that message, noting it was important for teachers to prepare students in developing skills and abilities so they can meet the everyday challenges with a strong framework, thanks in part to a Catholic background.
“No matter what changes occur, no matter what society throws at them, they have their anchors of values and faith that are Gospel-based, a prayer life to keep them anchored, and be able to face whatever challenges come their way,” Fortier said.
Bishop John Noonan, himself an educator with experience at many levels – including high school principal and college president – celebrated Mass. He thanked attendees for leading students to a life of holiness through Christ and touching many peoples’ lives.
“The journey to fulfill this covenant is one of sacrifice and love on your part,” Bishop Noonan said. “These special opportunities of gathering for a greater understanding of your ministry and mission are important to your own well-being.”
Teachers and administrators were also given time for discussions and presented scenarios and technology options that will benefit students in the classroom.
“I found the day to be refreshing, to reconnect with colleagues throughout the Diocese and focus again on the mission of Catholic education,” said Erin Landry, a teacher at the Basilica of St. Paul Catholic School in Daytona Beach. “It renewed my reasoning for being in Catholic education – to teach the whole child.”
Fortier was also able to meet several teachers and administrators, with whom he hopes to build strong relationships.
“We work together as a community, as a body, to bring Christ’s message to the family, to the children, to the diocese,” he said. “Nobody was at work here except the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit’s at work and alive, beautiful and wonderful things can happen. The teachers had very positive feedback, and that completely humbled me because to me, it’s God work.”