Initiative and Dedication Are the Stories Behind the NCEA 2019 President's Award Honorees

Five award recipients to be honored at the NCEA 2019 Convention & Expo for their exceptional contributions to Catholic education.

Arlington, VA – The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Convention & Expo in Chicago, April 23 – 25, will be the backdrop for the NCEA 2019 President’s Awards dinner on April 22. Named for the past presidents of NCEA, the President’s Awards recognize individuals and organizations for outstanding contributions to Catholic education. Among the 2019 recipients are principal Lisa Cinadr from St. Ambrose Catholic School in Brunswick, Ohio; St. Therese Chinese Catholic School Principal Lisa Deborah Oi, Chicago, IL; The Foundation for Catholic Education in Philadelphia; Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference in Annapolis, Mary Ellen Russell; and Bishop of Grand Rapids, The Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak.

NCEA President/CEO Dr. Thomas Burnford said, "One of the best parts of my job is giving awards on behalf of the Association to wonderful people and organizations such as these. The five honorees of the President’s Awards truly are witnesses to leadership, innovation and faith in action. And their work changes the lives of students and families through the ministry of Catholic school education."

The Dr. Karen M. Ristau Innovations Award is presented to an individual, school or program that has furthered the mission of Catholic education through an innovative program or approach. This year’s recipient, Lisa Cinadr began her tenure at St. Ambrose with a vision to develop a strong culture for Catholic identity and transformational change. She endlessly researched new methods and supported innovative small businesses, to provide engaging projects that impact St. Ambrose students and the community. She changed the culture of the small private school, by implementing anti-bullying programs (Be Kind Stick Together), inclusion programs (The Angel Project/STEM Accelerated Coding), and mental health training for the faculty and staff.

The Catherine T. McNamee, CSJ Award is presented to an individual or institution that offers exceptional leadership in promoting a vision of Catholic education that welcomes and serves cultural and economic diversity or serves students with diverse needs. Lisa “Debbie” Oi is the 2019 winner of this award. Soon after Ms. Oi became a classroom teacher at St. Therese she felt so much at home with the mission and community that she converted to Catholicism. Her leadership and expression of her personal faith journey has had a meaningful impact on the faith formation of students and families. Her goal is to provide the highest caliber education to St. Therese students while meeting their diverse learning needs. The school serves as a model for the Archdiocese of Chicago and frequently hosts educators from across the US and the world.

The C. Albert Koob Merit Award is given to an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution to Catholic education in areas of teaching, administration, parish religious education, research, publication or educational leadership. This year, The Foundation for Catholic Education, a nonprofit organization which supports the elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Executive Board of Elementary Education and the Country Advisory Councils, is recognized as the honoree. A main focus of the Foundation is to leverage the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program in Pennsylvania. Currently, the Foundation has established a Strategic Planning Assistance Team (SPAT) program that assists schools in danger of closing. Since the establishment of SPAT, no school in the archdiocese has had to close.

The Leonard F. DeFiore Parental Choice Advocate Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting full and fair parental choice in education. The 2019 awardee, Mary Ellen Russell, is the first director of community affairs for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the leading advocate for the state’s Catholic and other nonpublic school students and their teachers. Ms. Russell was influential in founding the Maryland Nonpublic Schools Legislative Coalition, the State Superintendent’s Nonpublic Schools Workgroup and the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium. Her work has made Catholic education accessible for many students in Maryland and is a model for parental choice advocates nationally.

The John F. Meyers Award, is presented to an organization or individual who has provided substantial support for Catholic education through contributions in the areas of development, public relations, scholarship programs, financial management or government relations. This year’s honoree is The Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak, Bishop of Grand Rapids, who led a three-part plan known as the “Bishop’s Catholic Schools Initiative,” committing three million dollars to grow enrollment in 2015. The result has been three consecutive years of enrollment growth following 15 years of decline. In addition, he required all parishes in the diocese to support the work of Catholic schools, through his program “Catholic Schools: Bridging Faith and Future.” Parishes without schools now contribute an additional four percent of their offertory to support the enterprise.

More information is available about the 2019 NCEA President’s Awards honorees on the NCEA website,


In service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NCEA strengthens Catholic school communities by providing professional development, formation, leadership and advocacy.