Brian T. OlszewskiThe Catholic Virginian

During an evening celebrating and recognizing the best in Catholic education, Bishop Barry C. Knestout thanked — “on behalf of the children you teach” — the 22 recipients of Excellence in Catholic Education awards at the second annual event sponsored by the Diocese of Richmond’s Office of Catholic Schools.

“You are both teachers and witnesses; you are not an effective teacher unless you are a witness,” the bishop said at the Thursday, May 9, event at the Roslyn Center, Richmond. “In the witness of the faith by your actions, as well as your words, your teaching is much more fruitful and effective.”

Three regional honorees and the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award winner were chosen from among the 22 school honorees.

First-grade teacher Diana M. Socha, a teacher for 37 years, including 30 at Star of the Sea School, Virginia Beach, received the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award. 

 “Diana’s mere presence in a room has a magical calming effect. In fact, she is best known to be heard saying, ‘Let us calm our hearts,’” Carey L. Averill, Star of the Sea principal who nominated Socha for the school honor, told the gathering. “When in her presence and you see her say this to her students, you see them magically relax and refocus. She doesn’t yell. She doesn’t reprimand.  It’s all about the heart with Diana and the relationships that she builds.”

Averill noted that when former students return to Star of the Sea, Socha is the teacher they seek.

“I can’t even begin to fathom how many students have mentioned Diana’s name or will mention it in the future on the teacher that has had the most profound impact on their lives,” she said. “Her students face life each day better prepared because of her quiet devotion to her faith and her profession.”

Annie Gallagher, a ninth-grade theology teacher at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, Virginia Beach, honoree for the Eastern Vicariate, has taught 22 years in Catholic schools — 14 at Walsingham Academy and eight at Bishop Sullivan.

In nominating Gallagher, Peggy Boon, BSCHS principal, wrote, “She holds students to high standards, helping them acclimate to the rigors of an excellent Catholic education. Her classroom is an oasis within the school environment, brimming with positive messages from the teachings of the Catholic faith, Gospel messages and student work.”

Deb Miller

Kathleen Hill

Annie Gallagher

Kathleen Hill, a first-grade teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes School, Richmond, and the Central Vicariate honoree, has taught for 16 years, including the last three at Our Lady of Lourdes. 

Kelly Taylor, Our Lady of Lourdes School principal, wrote in her nomination, “Her religious instruction doesn’t happen 30 minutes a day; it is woven through all of her teaching and interactions with students. Our Catholic faith is alive and living in her class every day. Her number one rule in 1A is that first graders do everything with love! Kathleen Hill is a living example of all that is good and inspiring in Catholic education.”

Deb Miller, Pre-4/Pre-K teacher at St. Anne School, Bristol, and the Western Vicariate honoree, has taught for 18 years.


In nominating Miller, Billie P. Schneider, principal of St. Anne School, wrote that the nominee “is an outstanding example of the way we are called to live by following Christ.”

Noting Miller “exemplifies the mission of the Office of Catholic Schools with her love, patience, the values she instills to her children and her service to the community,” Schneider added that the teacher’s witness of the faith extends beyond the classroom.

“Social justice is also a big part of her life as she practices being equal and fair to all and placing God at the center of her life,” Schneider wrote. “Her hands do the work of Christ himself as she lifts those in need and cares for the sick and elderly while being a strong Christian role model to students and staff.”

School honorees for excellence in Catholic Education

LaThornia Carmen Murph, All Saints Catholic School

*Annie Gallagher, Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School

Patricia Bowman, Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School

Lauren DeVane, Charlottesville Catholic School

Penny Newbold, Christ the King Catholic School

Patricia Rony, Holy Cross Catholic School

*Kathleen Hill, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School

Belinda Scholl, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School

Melanie Weser, Peninsula Catholic High School

Donna Henry, Portsmouth Catholic School

Nicole Lieber, Roanoke Catholic School

Debbie Rawley, Sacred Heart Catholic School

*Deb Miller, St. Anne Catholic School

Monica Menzies, Saint Benedict Catholic School

Beth Ouellette, Saint Bridget Catholic School

Peggy Gulledge, St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School

Deborah Donahue, Saint Gregory the Great Catholic School

Jennifer Davey, St. John the Apostle Catholic School

Jean-Marie Engelking, St. Joseph Catholic School

Susan Trout, Saint Mary’s Catholic School

Tara Gilliam, Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic School

Ruth Leigh Dewberry, St. Matthew’s Catholic School

Cristina O’Sullivan, St. Pius X Catholic School

**Diana Socha, Star of the Sea Catholic School

*Regional award winners            **Elizabeth Ann Seton Award winner