By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
During special announcements at Mater Dei and Reitz Memorial high schools, Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said it was the first time he’s visited schools when only a handful of people knew why he was there.
On April 14, Mayor Winnecke presented a Key to the City to all Evansville-area Catholic schools. He said COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on everyone over the past year; but Evansville has responded in positive ways, including keeping kids in school.
“One of the great blessings is the fact that we’ve had in-school learning since day one,” Winnecke said. “Yes, parents have had (elearning) options in many cases, but schools have been open. And that has done so much. It helps our students educationally. It helps their mental health. Them being in school allows parents or family members to work, whether it’s remotely or in-person.”
Mayor Winnecke publicly announced the Key to the City honors, which he awarded to all Evansville-area schools, during his April 20 State of the City Address. He explained it’s the “most visible way a mayor can thank a person or an institution for a major commitment to the community.”
Those in attendance for the surprise presentations included the priest-delegate, administrators and a class from each high school, and and pastors, administrators and families from partner elementary schools. COVID-19 precautions were taken, including social distancing and wearing masks.
Bishop Joseph M. Siegel offered a prayer during the recognitions and said the work done by schools has been amazing, but not easy. The bishop said everyone has sacrificed and made a lot of adjustments this year.
Bishop Siegel expressed his gratitude to Mayor Winnecke for recognizing Catholic schools. He said it certainly was not the year anyone would have liked, but everyone has been together, in-person, to continue the diocese’s great tradition of a Catholic education. The bishop also thanked everyone for making it a memorable year and for allowing students to continue to grow in their faith, knowledge and understanding.
“The fact schools have been open have allowed other businesses to stay open and thrive,” Mayor Winnecke said. “So, as a special token of thanks, we thought the best way to do that is to give every school a key to the city for being committed to in-school learning.”
Superintendent of Catholic Schools Dr. Daryl Hagan thanked Bishop Siegel for his leadership, vision and hard work that allowed schools to open. Since March 13, 2020, Hagan said principals have dedicated every ounce of energy to opening schools.
“We were among the few schools in this area, region and state that opened on-time and in-person, and that’s because of your principals; and it’s because of your teachers; and it’s because of the parents and students,” Hagan said. “You all created this path forward so that we could do this. I’m so grateful to you.”
Reitz Memorial hosted eastside Catholic schools
One Reitz Memorial class joined pastors, administrators and families from partner elementary schools, including Annunciation at Christ the King, Annunciation at Holy Spirit, Good Shepherd, Holy Rosary and St. Benedict Cathedral schools.
Reitz Memorial principal Sally Sternberg said receiving the Key to the City is “truly an honor.”
Many individuals and entities in the community have come together for the greater good during this pandemic, Sternberg said, with schools being one part of that larger body.
“Adapting to new safety protocols, creating learning environments out of common spaces, and all the while continuing the high quality Catholic education our schools offer has required flexibility, compromise and sacrifice from all,” she said. “Thus, it is with gratitude and a humble heart that we accept the Key to the City.”
Mater Dei hosted westside Catholic schools
One Mater Dei class joined pastors, administrators and families from partner elementary schools, including Corpus Christi, Holy Redeemer, Resurrection, St. Joseph, Vanderburgh County, and Westside Catholic schools.
Mater Dei president Andy Morris said after 12 months of darkness and the daily challenges everyone has endured, a little more light shines through.
“At this point, where we are in April, our future looks extremely bright,” he said. “And after having gone through something like this, closing and reopening, this is a huge acknowledgement for our entire community and the sacrifices that we’ve all made to come to this point.”
In the coming months, Morris said, the new school year is going to be “incredibly bright for all of us.”
“Having gone through something like this, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he said. “There’s nothing we can’t achieve, and certainly we’ll do that, and we’ll do it together.”