February 23, 2024

Pastor receives national honor as ‘advocate for Catholic education’

Father Timothy Wyciskalla, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in indianapolis, often visits with students at the parish’s school to share stories and lessons about the Catholic faith. (Submitted photo)

Father Timothy Wyciskalla, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in indianapolis, often visits with students at the parish’s school to share stories and lessons about the Catholic faith. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

When the latest great news for Catholic education in the archdiocese was announced recently, it was greeted with joy, surprise and a touch of humility.

The rejoicing quickly spread among the staff and the students of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Indianapolis when the news came that the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) had chosen Father Timothy Wyciskalla, the pastor of St. Mark, for its Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award—the only pastor in the country to receive the prestigious honor in 2024.

While the joy for Father Wyciskalla has also spread through St. Mark Parish and beyond, the 36-year-old priest has reacted with surprise and humility.

“I was flattered and surprised when they told me they had nominated me,” he says. “Being my first time and being fairly young, I thought it was just an honor to be nominated. I figured most dioceses nominate someone, so I was quite surprised when someone from the NCEA called me, told me I had won and invited me to the awards ceremony.

“Catholic schools are such an important part of our Church in our country that it’s humbling to receive an award like that—because there are countless priests in the country who have schools. It’s humbling, and also a great honor.”

According to officials at the NCEA, the Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award “highlights the outstanding work being done in Catholic education communities across the country. A mix of individual leaders, teachers, pastors and superintendents comprise the cast of exceptional awardees entrusted with the faith formation of students in Catholic school communities.”

In announcing the 11 winners, NCEA president Lincoln Snyder noted, “Within our Catholic school communities, there are those who are the premier advocates for Catholic education. Our Lead, Learn, Proclaim honorees tirelessly carry out the mission of faith formation deeply invested in the students, the schools and their ministry. Together, let’s honor them for doing the Lord’s work as true servant leaders.”

Even if he hadn’t received the honor, there’s no doubt that Father Wyciskalla is a “premier advocate for Catholic education.”

He praises the impact that his education at St. Barnabas School and Roncalli High School, both in Indianapolis, had on his life and his faith.

He has seen the difference a Catholic school education has made in the students at St. Mark and in his previous assignments as a parochial vicar at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg and SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, which also have strong schools.

“A strong Catholic school is a strong parish, and it’s also the future of that parish. I wish that was more apparent to everybody,” he says. “It’s an incredibly important ministry. I hope it will continue to grow everywhere, that it will continue to be a part of our Catholic experience in the U.S. and especially in our archdiocese.”

Father Wyciskalla’s commitment to Catholic education shows in the many ways he influences St. Mark School, says Joseph Hansen, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. He cites the pastor’s leadership in a capital campaign that led to a new gym, a new cafeteria and new pre-kindergarten classrooms.

“New families continue to join the church and school,” Hansen notes. “The diversity at St. Mark has increased at a rapid rate, and St. Mark especially has a high number of students who are refugees from Myanmar. Father Tim and the entire leadership team at St. Mark continue to welcome this community and ensure they are valued and contributing members of the St. Mark family.”

  As principal of St. Mark School, Jen Kocher says that Father Wyciskalla is beloved by the students because of all the ways he strives to connect with them.

“He goes above and beyond to be present in our school and a model for how to live your life—to become a ‘superhero saint.’ He volunteered to be a chaperone for our fourth-grade field trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was the driver for the minibus,” she says. “The students loved getting to see this other side of Father Tim.

“He often comes to many extracurricular and sporting events to support students and demonstrate for them how to support each other. He always plays in the annual staff versus eighth-graders’ volleyball game. And this year, during our fall food drive, he even covered himself in shaving cream and allowed students to throw cheese balls at him as a motivator to donate. His value for Catholic education shows in all he does for our students and staff.”

That’s especially true in his spiritual approach to the 525 students at the school, Kocher says. 

“Father Tim works closely with the school to teach our students the many ways of practicing and modeling our Catholic faith, such as adoration, Stations of the Cross, praying the rosary and reconciliation,” the principal says. “A perfect example of his leadership is the patience and time he invests in training new servers for our school and parish Masses.”

Father Wyciskalla will receive his Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award on April 1 when the NCEA starts its annual four-day conference in Pittsburgh. He views it as an honor to be shared with the leadership team at St. Mark.

He credits former principal Rusty Albertson for initially welcoming the Burmese families to the school and current principal Kocher and her staff for being the everyday ministers of the faith to the students from all backgrounds.

Calling this year “an exciting time for St. Mark” with all its improvements and all the school is trying to do for its students, Father Wyciskalla feels it’s an honor to be part of it.

“If I was at an assignment where I didn’t have a school, I’d still love being a priest,” he says. “But I always want to have a school. Of all the parish ministries—and they’re all important—I really think a Catholic school is the best at getting us our next generation of Catholics because we’re educating them, and we’re also able to give them the fullness of human formation, which includes spiritual formation.

“Thank God for our Catholic schools.” †

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