“We See You,” Archdiocese of Omaha Catholic School Staff – A Message from Mike Jensen
Congratulations again to Mike Jensen, principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School and one of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s 2020 Educators of the Year! At the Archbishop’s Dinner for Education on September 24, 2020, Mike gave an engaging and emotional speech that we’d like to share with all of our supporters.
Tonight we are here to celebrate Catholic education in the 2020! Doesn’t that sound awesome? Celebrating Catholic education, sure. But the year, 2020, is there really anything to celebrate about 2020? You see, celebrating Catholic education comes very naturally to all of us here in this room and for all of those listening, but that 2020 part. Typically, we hear 20/20 and we think vision – clear and perfect sight. But with the cloudiness of COVID-19 and the storminess of racism and division, where can out light shine tonight?
Let’s start by remember what got us here. All of us have a story that starts somewhere. My story starts with my own family’s vocation to Catholic education. My mom, Anne, has worked in the Catholic schools for 41 years and is currently principal of St. Philip Neri. My dad Don has been the director of buildings and grounds at Cathedral for the past 41 years and is currently principal at St. Philip Neri. My mom and dad have given a combined 82 years of service to the Catholic schools. Following in their footsteps, my wife Ashley and I both serve as Omaha Catholic school educators. Our Lady of Lourdes and Sacred Heart have become our second homes over the past 14 years. Our twin daughters, Anna and Ava, are masking up as they take on middle school at St. Philip Neri.
My parents were my first teachers. I had my first practicum in my mom’s classroom as as 5 year old sitting in the corner. My mom opened my eyes to the ins and outs of teaching and administration, while I worked through my degrees. She mentored me through my own careers as a Catholic teacher and administrator.
My dad opened my heart to the needs beyond the job. For 15 years, I worked for my dad as a part-time maintenance guy. He is the one who taught me not to cut corners. When you mow the grass at the Cathedral you don’t go home until you weed-eating is done also. When it was time to strip and wax the floors of the Cathedral he gave you a little 2 inch razor blade to make sure all the corners and edges were done by hand, otherwise it wouldn’t look right. He demanded hard work, he taught me to do it right the first time, he taught me how to lead a crew. As I got older, he would go on vacation and leave me to lead his crew of custodians while he was gone. He gave me my first opportunity to lead a team inside a Catholic school. I watched my dad have high expectations for his crew, and yet never lost sight of who they were. I watched him give refugees jobs, teach his crew skills, help them secure homes for their families, wait in the waiting rooms when they were sick or injured, drive for hours to watch them become United States citizens. He is the one who opened my eyes to leadership, compassion, tradition, and yes, how to fix a toilet.
God has worked through all of us to write these stories that bring us here tonight. For several months, our vision has been blurred. Our curriculum was blindsided by Covid 19 while we listened to the cries for racial equality pouring from our communities. We found our world to be darkened by division, loneliness, and illness. As the power of God’s love continues to heal our sight, we can celebrate tonight that our buildings are now open. Not only have we spent countless hours implementing safety protocols and procedures, but we have begun to discuss, acknowledge, and create learning materials and opportunities to undo racism in our communities.
I have the privilege tonight to share this wonderful honor with my colleagues from schools across the Archdiocese. We are all humbled and honored to be present in this room tonight, and yet acknowledge that tonight feels different. We know the amount of effort it took from every teacher, staff member, parent, and volunteer for our school buildings to reopen. My parents taught me that every single role inside of our schools matter. They made sure that I experienced every single job inside our Catholic schools from filling lunch trays to teaching math, from answering phones to mopping hallways, it all mattered!
Tonight, we are all Educators of the Year! We share this honor tonight with the Catholic school community who united together to navigate through darkness to bring clarity for our students and families. To my teachers and staff at Sacred Heart who worked tirelessly to continue to deliver a quality Catholic School education to our students, I see you! To Mr. Dave, our custodian, Ms. Kathy, our secretary, and our Instructional assistants who put together countless meals each week so our students would not go hungry, I see you! To my assistant Alicia who continued to keep my life organized while she was at home caring for her own kids, I see you! To our marketing director, Lisa Jackson, who worked to open lines of communication between school and families, I see you!
● To the teachers across the Archdiocese of Omaha who taught from their homes, and zoomed into our students living rooms, we see you!
● To the administrators who reported to school everyday and gave countless hours of preparation towards the reopening of our buildings, we see you!
● To the Catholic Schools Office, who never stopped answering their phones, and gave countless hours of time away from their families to support our educators. We see you!
● To our parish priest who walked with us on this journey, who found tools needed from remote learning, and ensured our educators could care for their families, we see you!
● To our Catholic school parents who adjusted their entire lives to support teachers with at home learning, while working from home, and still paying tuition. We see you!
● To our custodians who came to our buildings when everyone else was working from home. We see you!
● To the volunteers who installed plexiglass and helped prepare our students to return to our buildings, we see you!
● To our teachers and administrators across the diocese who have refused to lose sight of racial disparities and are working to undo racism, we see you!
● To all of you here tonight, and to all of you watching from home who have given your time, talent and treasure to ensure the success of our students, we see you!