In 2009 a generous alumni family established the Nano Nagle Award at St. Norbert Catholic School, Orange, California, USA, in gratitude for the quality education their children received at the school.
The award has several qualifications. First, the donors are to remain anonymous. Second, the cash value of the award is for the recipient’s personal, not classroom, use. Finally, the award is to be made by a panel of judges reviewing redacted essays written by students wishing to do so; the essays cannot be a mandatory school assignment, and can be written about any teacher of the student’s choice, not necessarily their homeroom teacher.
Each year, St. Norbert students learn about the life of Nano Nagle and her work educating Irish children in defiance of English Penal Laws which forbade schooling for such children. As they study Nano, they are encouraged to see how her charism is being carried out by their very own teachers today. Nano’s legacy extends over 50 years here when in 1965, just one year after the parish was founded, four Presentation Sisters opened the school.
With a new focus each year on the qualities exemplifying Nano’s work, the students have a week each spring to write their essay. This year, they were to write about the way a teacher exemplifies Nano’s qualities of playfulness, prayerfulness, kindness, and being just and fair.
At the baccalaureate awards presentation on May 24, Principal Joseph Ciccoianni reported that 185 essays were submitted nominating 18 teachers, and the recipient was Mrs. Deanna O’Keefe, the eighth grade teacher who is in her 20th year at St. Norbert. In her acceptance speech, Mrs. O’Keefe said,
“I just get to put the cherry on top with the eighth graders. These students have already been formed by all the teachers who came before me. It is a joy to teach them and to have the job that I love here at St. Norbert Catholic School.”
Of course, all of the teachers look forward to the award announcement, followed by the opportunity to read the redacted essays written about them. Once again, the panel of judges had a tough job and the essays made it clear that all nominees carry Nano’s light forward in the work they do with St. Norbert Catholic School students.