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Picture a mother who has tried to do everything she can to make her children’s lives better.
Focus on the extra efforts of a teacher and a principal whose goal has always been to help students become the best they can be.
Then consider this third scene: a woman showing her deep faith as she makes time for eucharistic adoration at the parish church.
All these moments help capture the essence of Nancy Buening, a mother of five and a longtime educator at St. Mary School in Greensburg. Now, another special scene of her life will be featured on April 18—the day she will receive the 2017 “Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award” from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).
From more than 150,000 Catholic teachers and administrators across the United States, Buening is just one of the 42 people this year who will receive this honor “for dedication and commitment to excellence” during the association’s national conference in St. Louis.
“A couple years ago, I remember Nancy talking about why she loves being a Catholic school principal,” says Janna Stonebraker, principal of All Saints Catholic Academy in Guilford.
“Nancy shared that it was the something more that made the difference for her. The something more that she saw when her students connected with God, the something more she felt when she observed a child experiencing the Catholic faith while learning, the something more that reassured her that she along with her staff was making a positive difference in the lives of those in her care.”
Those qualities have been Buening’s guiding goals in her 32 years as a Catholic school educator. And the 54-year-old Greensburg native continues to strive to reach these goals at St. Mary’s, the parish community where she was baptized, made her first Communion, received confirmation, was married to her husband of 30 years, Kenny, and where their children were baptized and attended school.
“I love my community and my family connections,” says Buening, who began teaching at the school in 1985 before becoming principal in 2008. “I have strong roots and a passion for the place and the people here. When you pour your love into it and people see that, they want to be part of it, too. The people of St. Mary’s are so wonderful. They give so much to the school and the parish.
“I always felt God was continuing to call me to be in this place—and to be better at it through the years.”
Buening’s commitment to her parish and faith shined through in a defining moment in 2008 shortly after she became principal.
“The capital campaign to build a new church and school had already begun,” she recalls. “Initially, we only raised enough money to begin building the school. I feel I was a big part in helping the parishioners to realize that what we were building was not just a school, but a space where the foundation for future generations would be formed.”
She showed her own commitment by attending numerous building meetings and being part of the design team for the school. She also “applied for and received multiple grants which helped relieve the building budget.” In the summer of 2012, she also led a team effort of teachers, staff members and volunteers from the parish that “moved the school by our own hands, to our new location about one mile south of the old school.”
St. Mary School now has 311 students—an increase of 44 percent in eight years—after adding a pre-school, a seventh grade and an eighth grade in recent years. The parish also opened its new church last summer.
“These buildings are not just buildings. They’re the future of our Church, our legacy,” she says. “My faith is stronger by being part of this school and parish community.”
She also works to deepen the faith of her students by showing them the example of her faith. She sings as a cantor at parish Masses, prays regularly in the parish’s adoration chapel, serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and volunteers as a confirmation sponsor for high school students.
“The best way for me to proclaim to students the Gospel message is to try to model it for them,” Buening says.
She provides that model on many different levels, according to Father John Meyer, pastor of St. Mary Parish.
“As a wife, mother and grandmother, as well as an active parish leader and member, Nancy exhibits daily in her life and work an example of service, love and stewardship that captures the essence of Gospel values,” he says. “I cannot find any criteria under the ‘Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award’ characteristics that does not apply to Nancy.”
As for the national honor, Buening has the same approach as she does with her life and her faith—to share it with all the people who have graced her journey.
“You don’t do these things by yourself,” she says. “I tell the kids the award is not just about me. The award is a tribute to all the students, all the teachers, all the families—and it’s a tribute to God.
“He’s definitely here in all of this. The spirit is alive. People have told me they feel that presence at the school—and I feel it, too. That’s why I’m so passionate about the school and what I do.” †