Louisa Dwyer, a sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome Academy in Hyattesville, is a 2018 Golden Apple Award recipient. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Louisa Dwyer, a sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome Academy in Hyattesville, is a 2018 Golden Apple Award recipient. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
As a sixth grade teacher at St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Louisa Dwyer transports her students to ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt as they study works like the Iliad and the Odyssey through the school’s classical curriculum.

Dwyer has worked at the school for 32 years, and has taught every grade in the upper level, or “Logic” stage of the students’ education, which includes grades six through eight. Through everything that she teaches, Dwyer said she has one main thing she hopes the students remember: that they are created and loved by God.

“We are so fortunate that we have this classical model (of education),” said Dwyer. “God is the center of everything that we do, and the children are able to see that cross-curricular… They see the glory of God is present throughout their whole history. For them to understand and then to carry that message after we leave here, that is what we do.”

On April 18, Dwyer was surprised to learn that she was one of 10 teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington selected to receive a Golden Apple Award this year to recognize her excellence as a Catholic educator.

Jem Sullivan, the Secretary for Education for the Archdiocese of Washington, announced the award following an all-school Mass, telling Dwyer that the award was an honor not only for her, but also for “the entire St. Jerome family,” which Sullivan is a part of as a parent of a student at the school.

Daniel Flynn, the principal of St. Jerome, recalled how he has known Dwyer since his first day at the school, when he was introduced to her and she stood up with a big smile and said, “I am so excited to have you at this school.” As he adjusted to the school, Flynn said Dwyer acted as a mentor to him.

“She really showed me the ropes of what it meant to be an evangelist and be a missionary, because that is who she is, essentially,” said Flynn. “She never used those words, but she helps you out with all the particulars along the way and just checks in on people in a really, really wholesome way as a friend. It is sincere… It is just how she is. She treats everybody with the same demeanor of care and love and respect.”

With her students, Flynn said she has “a keen sensitivity for knowing where people are” in their academics, in their formation, and in their family life, and she bases her teaching upon the needs of the students.

For Jayda Des Vignes, who is now a St. Jerome’s eighth grader, that meant encouraging her to participate more in class.

“I think I am a good student, but with raising my hand in class, that wasn’t really my thing, but she always tried to get me to get into the class discussion,” she said.

Both Des Vignes and Thomas Hill, another eighth grade student, noted that while Dwyer is serious and disciplines her students, she also knows how to make the class enjoyable.

“She had a great sense of humor, and she just made the class fun, but we also learned a lot,” said Hill.

Because of her depth of knowledge, mentoring of new teachers, and attentiveness to her students, Father Scott Hahn, the pastor of St. Jerome’s Parish, said Dwyer “has been the heart of St. Jerome’s” for the 32 years that she has been teaching there.

Dwyer witnesses to her faith by bringing her students to Mass on Mondays and Adoration on Fridays, and sharing with them her own prayer intentions that she asks them to pray for. But beyond those ways of teaching the faith, Flynn said it is present in the way she lives her life.

“Mrs. Dwyer’s faith is on her sleeve all the time,” said Flynn. “It is who she is inside her heart and it just flows out naturally through really simple little comments or little expressions… It is authentic, for her, her faith is something that is transparent and nothing that she has ever hid. It is who she is. It comes out across the board.”