Decades after his Christian school upbringing, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr tracked down the teacher at Corpus Christi elementary in New York who meant the most to him, just to thank her.
Sister Lucinda, though 93 and at a retirement home in Wisconsin, “remembered me right away and could recount details about my family,” he says. She died not long after Barr’s second visit, but he’d already made it clear enough in his first letter to her what she’d meant to her former 4th and 5th grade student who went on to serve three presidents.
“Though I’ve had many teachers in my life,” he wrote her, “besides my parents you have had the greatest impact, and I owe you the most. You always gave me kind and gentle encouragement. You instilled the love of learning and gave me confidence in my abilities. You taught me not to shrink from upholding what I thought to be right and not to hesitate to lead.
“Your example of faith and charity helped give me a strong religious foundation, which has been the greatest gift of all.”
On Saturday Barr shared that deeply felt story in a video message to the 12 national Christian Teachers of the Year, selected by the Herzog Foundation and feted at the foundation’s second annual Excellence in Christian Education Awards Gala at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
Those teachers of the year mean the same thing to unknown numbers of students that Sister Lucinda meant to Barr, he told them.
“All the outstanding Christian teachers who are being recognized tonight are having this kind of impact on countless young lives,” he said, in a speech that clearly meant the world to him to deliver. “And I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in honoring all of you.
“Thank you to the 12 Christian teachers of the year,” he added, calling each by name, “for being such positive influences in the lives of our nation’s students.
“More than that, what you’re doing is essential to the most fundamental right we have: religious liberty. To anyone of faith, there’s nothing more important than passing the faith on to your children. That is the greatest gift you can give your children, and it is your highest duty to God.”
Barr’s parents were both on the faculty at Columbia University near where he grew up, but his father also would become headmaster of two private schools while they sent him to Catholic school.
“I realized over the years that apart from my parents, that elementary school had the greatest impact on my life. My father used to say that all it took was one great teacher in someone’s life to ignite a passion for learning.”
In his message to the award winners, Barr no doubt was also speaking to all Christian educators throughout the country who are safe harbors for impressionable young children in a culture that for decades, he said, has been growingly inhospitable and even “subversive” to people of faith.
“Since the 1960s, government-run schools have become increasingly hostile and subversive to traditional religious values – a stumbling block to the ability of parents to pass on their faith and frame the moral character of their children,” Barr said.
“The Duke of Wellington used to say, ‘Educate men without religion, and you make but clever devils.’ He was right. The view that you can somehow hermetically segregate education from faith and religion is an illusion.
“At the end of the day, isn’t education really about moral formation – conveying to our children what is it to live a good life? And doesn’t this task require helping children learn the truth about themselves and how they fit into the universe? And doesn’t that also require coming to an understanding that life has a purpose, and it is this ultimate purpose that tells us how we should live?”
Today’s parents, as did Barr’s, play the key role in filling a child’s formative years with a guiding faith, he said.
“But they need the help of institutions that support their values, not actively work against them. And that is why we need Christian schools to help them.
“The good news is that there is growing recognition that school choice is essential to achieve excellence in education and to protect religious liberty. And the Supreme Court’s recent rulings have now made clear that the First Amendment does not require a government monopoly on publicly funded education.
“On the contrary, the First Amendment may now require that religious parents be allowed to send their children at public expense to schools that are compatible with their religious values. Achieving school choice, which has been my personal passion since I worked for Ronald Reagan, is well within our grasp.
“When it comes, we will finally be back on the road to restoring our culture.
“Thank you for being the vanguard.”
The teachers recognized on Saturday not only received awards, but John Elliott, vice chairman of the Herzog Foundation Board of Directors, announced to the crowd that “an additional way we are honoring you is through giving each of you and each of your schools $2,500.”
The 2023 Christian Teachers of the Year are:
- Diane Carter
- Diane teaches Science and Biblical Worldview at Annapolis Christian Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her teaching career spans over 32 years, 28 of which have been at her current school.
- The Rev. Joseph Cox
- Rev. Cox teaches English, Christian Apologetics, Ethics and Moral Decisions at Lutheran High School South in St. Louis, Missouri. His teaching career spans over 23 years, 16 of which have been at his current school.
- Cheryl Crouch
- Cheryl teaches English and College Test Prep at Denton Calvary Academy in Denton, Texas. Her teaching career spans over 14 years, all of which have been at her current school.
- Tanya Dallmeyer
- Tanya teaches 2nd grade at St. Peter Catholic School in Jefferson City, Missouri. Her teaching career spans over 26 years, all of which have been at her current school.
- Bruce Hoover
- Bruce teaches History at Anchor Christian Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His teaching career spans over 45 years, six of which have been at his current school.
- Jacob Kounter
- Jacob teaches Bible courses at Immanuel Christian High School in Springfield, Virginia. His teaching career spans over three years, all of which have taken place at his current school.
- Sarah Murphy
- Sarah teaches 5th grade at King’s Way Christian School in Vancouver, Washington. Her teaching career spans over 15 years, 13 of which have been at her current school.
- Mark Newman
- Mark teaches Theology at Lake Country Lutheran High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. His teaching career spans over 27 years, 24 of which have been at his current school.
- Kyle Rapinchuk
- Kyle teaches Christian Worldview and Great Books at School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. His teaching career spans over 12 years, 11 of which have been at his current school.
- Janelle Rupp
- Janelle teaches Anatomy & Physiology, Introduction to Healthcare and Forensics at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia. Her teaching career spans over 14 years, five of which have been at her current school.
- Ashley Skinner
- Ashley teaches Science and English at Grand View Christian School in Des Moines, Iowa. Her teaching career spans over 16 years, two of which have been at her current school.
- Brooke Stewart
- Brooke teaches Agriculture Science at Victory Christian Academy in Decatur, Texas. Her teaching career spans over six years, four of which have been at her current school.