Supporters of Catholic education throughout the nation gathered on Oct. 7 at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Maryland to recognize seven honorees of the 2019 Elizabeth Seton Awards from the National Catholic Educational Association for their service to Catholic education in their respective communities. 

Among those presented with awards were two honorees from the Archdiocese of Washington -- Catholic Coalition for Special Education and its founder, Francesca Pellegrino, and C. Maury Devine, a supporter of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Washington Jesuit Academy, and the Washington School for Girls. 

Thomas Burnford, president of NCEA, said the honorees embodied the “essence of Catholic school education.” 

The National Catholic Educational Association supports Catholic schools and their communities nationwide through leadership, advocacy and formation. Throughout the country, nearly 1.8 million children attend Catholic schools in 176 Catholic dioceses. Within the Archdiocese of Washington, more than 26,000 students attend 93 Catholic schools.

Pellegrino began the Catholic Coalition for Special Education to build support for parents with children with disabilities and to enable Catholic schools to be more inclusive in their educational programs. Her work has spanned over the last 20 years, and has largely impacted several schools within the Archdiocese of Washington such as Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Bethesda, Maryland and Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland. 

“Catholic schools are uniquely qualified to include students with disabilities, precisely because they are Catholic,” Pellegrino said. “Precisely because we believe we are one body in Christ and that body is only complete when all its members are included. Including students with disabilities in Catholic schools is the fulfillment of the mission of Catholic schools, Catholic education, and Catholic social teaching.”

Sharing her story of desiring Catholic education for her son, Alex, who has a disability, Pellegrino said her work is to help parents with disabilities to find a community within their Catholic schools. 

“Having a child with a disability and many medical issues really turned my life upside down and inside out and threw me into a crisis of faith... I came out so much stronger for it,” she said. “Something within me had stirred and a transformation began to take place. My faith was stronger than ever, and I knew I wanted a Catholic education for Alex. But it wasn’t meant to be, apparently God had other plans for us.” 

Her son Alex now works as a teacher's aide at St. Peter School on Capitol Hill.

C. Maury Devine (second from right) was named a 2019 NCEA Seton Award honoree and a scholarship in her name was presented to Za'Niyah Martin, an eighth grader at the Washington School for Girls in Washington, D.C. Also pictured are NCEA chairman of the Board, Bishop Gerald Kicanas (left) and NCEA President Thomas Burnford. (Courtesy Photo/NCEA) 

In addition to her work in the corporate world as a retired ExxonMobil executive, Devine has dedicated time and efforts to promote Catholic education within the Washington area. Presently on the board of directors at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, she has also served on the board at Washington Jesuit Academy and the Washington School for Girls. 

Devine is herself a product of Catholic education. 

“I believe strongly that Catholic education gives you a liberal education from a very young age. You’re also taught to think of others beyond yourself, to walk in their shoes, to share your journey,” she said in a honoree video shown at the gala. 

Turning to the educators and supporters of Catholic education in the room, Devine thanked them for the influence they are having on the next generation of children. 

“We need more of what you offer and more of what you do,” she said. “You’re teaching our students, our young people to question assumptions, to promote social justice and live the Catholic faith by helping others. We’re all better because of you and the world is a better place because you’re here.” 

Each person honored with an NCEA Seton Award presents a scholarship in their name to a local child in their own communities. 

Anthanino Navarra-Petrovic, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Bethesda, has Down syndrome and is fully immersed in the classroom experience. Describing Navarra-Petrovic to the audience at the gala, Pellegrino said he is a “great soccer teammate, a hilarious buddy to sit with during lunch, and a sweet friend who never hesitates to comfort someone in need.” 

“With the support of his parents and teachers, Nino has made great academic progress alongside his peers,” she added. “He is an active and fully-included member of the Our Lady of Lourdes community. Nino thank you so much for helping your friends and teachers and all who meet you, recognize the face of God in all they encounter.”

Devine’s Seton Scholar is an eighth grader at The Washington School for Girls, Za’Niyah Martin. 

“Za’Niyah is an outstanding example of the values we all cherish in life -- kindness toward others, thoughtfulness, academic achievement, great organizational skills, and a natural leader,” Devine said while presenting her with the award. “Za’Niyah thank you for living the ideals of The Washington School for Girls.”

Also recognized as honorees of the 2019 NCEA Seton Award was Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Tony and Michelle Audino of the Archdiocese of Seattle, and the Dunn Family Foundation of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. Timothy Tewes, CEO of FACTS Management Company, which supports many Catholic schools nationwide, was recognized with the NCEA President’s Award.