Motivation from Mrs. Fanciullo

On September 20, Stacey Fanciullo was honored as the Metro Elementary Educator of the Year at the 41st Annual Archbishop’s Dinner for Education. Stacey spoke from the podium on behalf of all of this year’s honorees. Below are her powerful words from her speech that night.

[Approx. 5 min read]

“Good evening, Most Reverend Archbishop Lucas, Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss, Governor Ricketts, Hosts Kelly and Britt Thedinger, our beloved Priests, Deacons and Religious.  Good evening, Dr. Ashton and Administrators, my fellow teachers, family, and friends. And a special good evening to every parent who has allowed us to play a small part in helping you raise your kids to the Light.

I am so excited to be able to talk to you all and to be representing tonight’s other honorees.

I know we are gathered together to celebrate what we give our students and raise more money so we can give to even more children.  I am completely convinced of the extraordinary value of a Catholic school education to the students.  But I can’t speak first hand about those benefits. I have actually never been a student in a Catholic school.

I went to a public school and a Lutheran college, and I’m grateful for my education and the religion that was mine for much of my life. My plan was to teach music at public high school. And I did that for two years until God steered me toward Omaha and into my first Catholic school job at St. Thomas More. And honestly, it took less than a single semester there to realize what Catholic schools have figured out. I don’t exaggerate when I say they are truly what the children in this world need: not just church on Sunday and prayers before bed, but the all day, all week, total immersion of Catholic education.

I also realized right away, that as a non-Catholic and later, as a convert, I could fulfill a unique role.  As a sort of “outsider,” I was able to point out the many amazing things Catholicism offers in a way that maybe cradle Catholics and Catholic school kids wouldn’t notice or appreciate, just because they’ve always had it. In fact, I have so many examples that when I first wrote this speech, it was over 22 minutes long!  But that’s as long as a sitcom and would need commercial breaks, so I want to JUST share a few that stand out in my heart. And I hope you will see I’ve received FAR more from teaching in Catholic schools than I could ever give.

#1 I want to tell you the first brilliant idea I noticed. By this point, I had started researching and asking a lot of questions about the crash of self-esteem that often seems to hit students during adolescence.

So often we say or see the words, “Believe in yourself.”  That sounds positive; it’s on t-shirts, and inspirational posters, but somehow that didn’t ring true. I mean, believe in myself? I mess up all the time, so it doesn’t seem very solid or sure. But at my first Catholic school, I heard the priest and teachers telling children of that age group that it’s God’s strength we should believe in, God who is all powerful, and that we can do only very small things, but with God all things are possible.

The two approaches are opposite.  They were teaching God, not self. There was my answer.  Because God is the answer, and Catholic schools can speak that truth.

#2 My first lesson as a Catholic school music teacher was learning how to prepare the music for school Masses…which I promptly fell in love with.  But I had tons of questions, from the prayers, to when to kneel, and on and on. There were the obvious experts on the subject: priests, teachers who had been teaching religion for like 25 years, AND that giant Catechism in my classroom closet.  But who did I most often turn to?

The fourth graders.

I tried asking junior high but there were eye rolls and suspicion. So I went back to the 10 year olds…they were so proud to tell what they knew about their faith! Earnest in their encouragement, totally without judgment, their explanations were right about at my level. Then they kept bugging poor Fr. Craig Loecker (then in his first priest assignment) to make sure what they told me was right. That had to have been so annoying because this went on for some time, yet each time he addressed it, he always thanked me for sharing my faith with the students.  So to Fr. Craig and those now fully grown, thirty-something year old adults, I give the credit for my conversion to the Catholic faith.

In a Catholic school, you can talk to your students about your faith.  My students evangelized me.

#3 I get so much support and strengthening of my faith from the Catholic school family.  Over at St. Bernadette we are not perfect of course but on any given day, a teacher might tell me about the book she’s reading about St. Rita. Or appearances the Blessed Virgin made in Rwanda. I make an appointment for a little counseling on a personal issue, and the priest comes right to my classroom. The history teacher and his wife celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip…do they go to Vegas? Cancun? NO, the Vatican.  I open my Facebook to see photos of my principal’s pilgrimage to Israel. I open an email from a parent and find a link to a recording of a Christian song that she just had to share with me.

Now, I know that anyone might become close with inspiring people at work.  They can care about you and get you through problems or get you through the day.

But mine are trying to get me to heaven.  And I will take all the help I can get!

#4 Although never a Catholic school student, I did marry one.  David is my “in” when I meet South Omaha people who find out I’m not from here. I can always pipe up, “But my husband went to Gross…” So then, I get the look of maybe she’s ok. Because he went to Catholic schools, he knows both their value and that to be happy, you have to serve others. To be happy, your life has to be in line with God’s plan for you.  And I can gratefully say that, for 20 years, he has never failed to support me in mine.

That’s the Catholic definition of success, not the world’s.

#5 So besides teaching Catholic school students and being married to one, I’m also the mom of of one. David and I have one child. Jake went to St. Bernadette and I could easily give a whole speech on what Catholic school has given to him and what it has meant to us, his parents. Let me just close with one last story that is the dearest to me.

I knew that it was sort of the norm to wait a few months to let people know you’re pregnant, in case something bad happens, but I was BEYOND excited to find out I was… after years of praying for another baby… that I told everybody including our young son.  That’s how I am. Even after I miscarried that baby and got pregnant again, I still told everybody right away. Seven months after the first, I miscarried a second baby. It was the hardest thing that’s ever happened to my little family, but we had our faith, we had SO much support and we had each other. I knew we were sad, but I thought we were “okay.”

But our kindergartener was struggling with the losses maybe more than we knew. And it didn’t hit me fully until one day when I asked Jake what he had done at school.  And he told me that– to make him feel better– his teacher had him make a picture for each of the babies; she gave it to her aide, who rolled them up and put them inside two helium balloons. She, in turn, gave them to our counselor who took Jake outside, just the two of them, up on the hill by the retaining walls and helped him “deliver” his balloon messages to our babies in Heaven.

You are not going to get that anywhere else.  You are NOT going to get that. THAT is a Catholic school.

And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for this honor, thank you for all you do for Catholic schools, and thank you for listening.  Good night.”

Mrs. Stacey K. Fanciullo

Music/ Art/ Drama

St. Bernadette Catholic School

“Lord, write Your story on my heart.”

                        –Francesca Battistelli