Three men honored for their commitment to Catholic schools - Catholic Courier
Father James Schwartz (from left), Ted Mancini and Father Thomas Mull Father James Schwartz (from left), Ted Mancini and Father Thomas Mull were all honored with the Lighting the Fire for Catholic Education Award last fall.

Three men honored for their commitment to Catholic schools

Local Catholic schools have played key roles in the lives of Ted Mancini, Father Thomas Mull and Father James Schwartz.

All three men attended Catholic schools during their own formative years, and those experiences sparked in each man a lifelong passion for Catholic education that only grew as the years went by.

In recognition of the commitment to Catholic schools, the Catholic School Administrators Association of New York State honored all three men with its Lighting the Fire for Catholic Education Award last fall. Mancini, Father Mull and Father Schwartz were among the eight individuals — hailing from five Catholic dioceses throughout the state — to receive the award in 2023.

“It’s a huge honor. It’s humbling,” remarked Mancini, principal at Aquinas Institute in Rochester.

The Lighting the Fire award recognizes individuals’ service and dedication to Catholic schools

The award is given annually to individuals who have given a significant part of their lives, time, talent and treasure to Catholic schools in New York state, according to Carol Hayes, executive director of CSAANYS.

“It is very important to honor those individuals who give so much to our schools,” Hayes said. “With all that they must do every day to ensure the success of the students that are in their care, this award acknowledges their service and dedication.”

The first Lighting the Fire awards were presented in 2009, and since that time, 10 individuals with ties to the Diocese of Rochester have been honored.

Aquinas principal made a ‘deliberate choice’ to devote his career to Catholic education

Mancini said he was honored to be one of the most recent award winners. He got his first taste of Catholic education in the 1980s when he was a student at Rochester’s St. Ambrose School, now known as St. Ambrose Academy. After graduating from St. Ambrose, Mancini continued his Catholic education at Aquinas Institute before earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a certificate in Catholic-school administration, all from the University of Rochester.

He returned to Aquinas in 1992 as a newly minted teacher. He taught there for nearly 20 years before becoming principal in 2011. Early in his career, Mancini made a deliberate decision to focus on Catholic education, he said.

“Jesus Christ is the center of everything we do,” he said. “Social justice and service and faith are what we’re about. When that’s where you start, the rest is so much easier.”

Father Mull: Catholic schools fulfill Jesus’ call to teach the children

Back when Mancini was still a student at St. Ambrose he met fellow Lighting the Fire awardee Father Mull, who was assistant pastor at St. Ambrose Parish and a frequent presence in the school. Although Father Mull was a young priest at the time, he was no stranger to Catholic education.

“My own personal experience has been Catholic education all along,” Father Mull remarked.

As a child, Father Mull had attended St. Mary School in Waterloo followed by DeSales High School in Geneva. He later studied at St. John Fisher College — now St. John Fisher University — in Pittsford and St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester and did graduate work at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

Every parish Father Mull has been assigned to since his 1976 ordination has had a parish school. In addition to St. Ambrose, he also served at Rochester’s St. Andrew Parish and Sacred Heart Cathedral, as well as St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua, which merged with St. Bridget in East Bloomfield and became St. Benedict Parish during his time there. He left Canandaigua and its St. Mary School in 2013 to take on his current assignment as pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.

The parish’s St. Francis-St. Stephen School is an integral part of Our Lady of Peace’s mission, he said.

“Jesus told us that we needed to teach, and Catholic schools and religious education are very real, practical responses to that,” Father Mull said. “We’re teaching the children, so the children can grow up and teach the next generation.”

Father Schwartz is a self-proclaimed ‘big disciple of Catholic education’

Like Father Mull, Father Schwartz also is a product of Catholic education. He spent his childhood years at Our Lady of Good Counsel School before moving on to St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester and was ordained in 1968.

“I’m a big disciple of Catholic education through and through. I’ve been blessed that any parish that I’ve been involved in has had a Catholic school,” Father Schwartz remarked.

Those parishes include St. Theodore in Gates, Holy Family in Rochester and St. Louis in Pittsford. He became pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Penfield in 2005, and in 2014, he also became pastor of the neighboring Holy Spirit Parish. He currently leads both parishes and is a familiar face at St. Joseph School, which he considers “the prize jewel of St. Joseph Church.”

“We form and fashion our students after the mind and heart of Jesus Christ,” he explained. “I’m a firm believer that education without God is an incomplete education.”

Tags: Catholic Schools
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