by Paula M. Riley
The snow and ice on Saturday night didn’t stop Norwood-Fontbonne Academy (NFA) parents, alumni and supporters from attending a Blue Ribbon Gala at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill to celebrate the school’s designation by the U.S. Department of Education as a 2014 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
Five members of the school’s faculty were honored at the gala for their service to NFA. Annmarie Greenberg and Sister Marjorie Lawless, SSJ, were honored for 25 years of service. Sister Patricia (Pat) Hagan, SSJ, was recognized for 26 years of service. Distinguished alumni, Dr. Angela M. Stout,’79, and Christopher E. McDermott, ’71, were recognized for their commitment to the NFA mission.
The event hosted 300 guests who enjoyed good food and warm friendship. The celebration culminated with the presentation of the honorees. Many laughs and much applause were heard as NFA parent and emcee Jackie Woolley shared stories of the honorees’ amazing commitment to NFA. The presentation featured a special performance of “You Raise Me Up’ by NFA current students Mary Kate Ciolko, ’15, and Alexis Ventresca, ’19, and alumnus Joseph Gerngross ’13.
“Our honorees have made powerful and unique contributions through their commitment to our NFA vision,” said Sister Mary Helen Beirne, SSJ, NFA head of school. “They have helped us achieve the distinction as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. They are true blue.”
Sister Patricia ‘Pat’ Hagan, SSJ is currently a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher. She joined the NFA faculty in 1988. Prior to her current classroom, Sister Pat taught for 19 years in the very same room where she had lived as a student at Chestnut Hill College. Best known for her one-liner life advice to her students, Sister Pat has empowered many NFA students who experienced great success in high school.
Well known for its Montessori program, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy is one of only six schools in Pennsylvania accredited by the American Montessori Accreditation As the head teacher in a Junior Level Montessori (ages 6-9) class, Sister Marjorie Lawless, SSJ, has contributed to strengthening this program.
When asked about her most special memories in her 25 years, Lawless said she cherishes most the quiet moments when she shares reflection with her students about her image of God and how personal that image is, and will grow in each of their lives.
“It is a profound sharing of the heart,” she said, “to reflect with them about God’s love and the importance of keeping an open heart to both receive His love and give it back to others.”
Annmarie Greenberg began her career at NFA as a fourth-grade teacher. She is currently a sixth-grade homeroom teacher and teaches math and religion to fourth, fifth and six graders.
Known for her fun math activities, including “Brownies,” Greenberg has offered challenging instruction and consistent guidance in math for 25 years. Even before she began teaching, Greenberg coached girls’ sports at NFA. For 29 consecutive years she coached JV field hockey, and for 24 years she coached the JV basketball team.
Dr. Angela Stout graduated from NFA in 1979 and has been connected to the academy ever since. A pediatric dentist with a practice in Erdenheim, “Dr. Angel” is a leading advocate in the state for those in her profession to recognize child abuse and neglect. She has served on the NFA Advisory Board and the Sister James Anthony Gym Project Committee as well as the Development Committee.
At the gala, she reflected on the friendships formed at NFA that she treasures today as well as the lessons of service and living a faith-filled life that she learned both as an NFA student and while at Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
One of 10 siblings, Christopher McDermott is passionately dedicated to the Sisters of Saint Joseph and grateful for the influence they have on his life. A 1971 graduate of Norwood Academy (then an all-boys boarding school), McDermott is current a senior vice president for commercial lending at First Choice Bank.
He reflected on NFA, saying that he was taught to “really read” there. He participates on the NFA Advisory Board offering his banker’s expertise. In addition to this service, McDermott also sits on the Sisters of Saint Joseph Development Board and the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology School Foundation.
A parent and staff committee planned the incredible evening. NFA Student Council leaders greeted everyone with a warm smile at the door and recent alumni returned to provide support and assistance with the evening activities.
“It was a fabulous evening to honor three outstanding teachers, Mrs. Greenberg, Sister Marjorie and Sister Pat, for all their tireless work in shaping the future of our children,” said NFA parent Susan Hohenleitner. “I am so happy that they were called to this vocation as they have forever impacted the future with their patience, love and knowledge they are giving every day to NFA students. I believe all in attendance on Saturday night felt the impact they and the alumni honorees are in making the world a better place.”
Parents’ Association co-presidents Nicole Ventresca and Jennifer Forti served as event co-chairs. Their team created a wonderful presentation, an exciting technology raffle, a free-tuition raffle and a Fund-a-Need for NFA technology.
“The entire event illustrated what a wonderful community we have here at NFA,” Ventresca said. “Whether involved for a year or three decades, NFA parents, staff and alumni treasure the combination of excellent academics, a faith-filled environment and being with other great people.”