On a recent school day, a student in Wendy Slay’s fourth-grade class at St. Mary School in Bryantown, was worried about her grandfather who was undergoing surgery that morning. Slay, who has taught in both public and Catholic schools, knew what needed to be done.

“Well, the lesson plan went out the window that morning and as a class we prayed the rosary for the student’s grandfather,” Slay said. “I could not do that in a public school, but here, I can.”

Because of her commitment to Catholic education, Slay was honored this year as one of 10 Archdiocese of Washington Catholic school teachers to be named as a Golden Apple Award winner.

The annual award recognizes a teacher’s professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching. Each of the honored teachers will receive a golden apple, a certificate and a $5,000 award. Slay and her fellow Golden Apple honorees will be recognized by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at a May10 awards dinner at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

The Golden Apple Award was established in this archdiocese more than 10 years ago through the generous support of the Pittsburgh-based Donahue Family Foundation established by Jack and Rhodora Donahue, who sent their 13 children through Catholic schools and created the award to show appreciation for Catholic school teachers who provide a quality academic and faith-filled education to their students.

During a school assembly where she was surprised with the announcement that she was selected as a Golden Apple winner, Slay told the cheering students, “I am overcome. I am so blessed because I love being here every day to be with you."

Slay has taught fourth grade at St. Mary’s for the past eight years. Prior to that she spent a year there as a tutor and a year as a pre-kindergarten teacher.

The ninth St. Mary School teacher to be honored with the Golden Apple, Slay said that after teaching at the Southern Maryland Catholic school for a decade, she knows that she would never return to public education.

“I taught in public school prior to coming here – and now I would teach nowhere else,” she said. “Here I can share the love of God, and here you can feel the love of God.”

Slay added that her favorite part of teaching is what she called “the light bulb moment” when “you see what you have been teaching finally connects with a student.”

Sharon Caniglia, principal of St. Mary’s, called Slay “a wonderful teacher.”

“Wendy is a wonderful blessing, a phenomenal blessing to this school,” Caniglia said. “She makes a tremendous impact on her children.”

A convert to Catholicism, Slay said she watched as her students received Holy Communion and she realized that “I was missing out on the grace of the sacrament. I wanted the Eucharist.” Her decision to become a Catholic, she explained, was one where “Jesus called, and I answered.”

Father Rory Conley, pastor of St. Mary Church who brought Slay into the Church, called Slay “first and foremost … a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.”

“Her dedication to our Lord, which shows itself in her kindness and compassion toward others, is a wonderful example not only for her students, but also for her fellow teachers and staff,” Father Conley said.

Slay, who praised the dedication of her fellow teachers, said she is honored to be a Golden Apple winner. “I work with phenomenal people,” she said. “There are so many worthy teachers here. The Lord has given me inspiration from the people I have worked with.