By Claudia Mathis
The day before last June’s 6th grade graduation at St. Mary’s School in Cortland, 5th grade teacher Eileen Hoyt was notified by Principal Denise Hall that she would be receiving an award during the ceremony. Hoyt soon discovered that she was to receive the National Catholic Educational Association Alumni Award.
“I felt — and still feel — so very honored and blessed!” said Hoyt. “It is extremely humbling to be recognized in such a special way. I will always be grateful to Denise Hall for patiently going through all of the steps and making the time to complete the nomination process for me. She blessed me beyond.”
“This is the first time that someone in her age group has been a serious contender,” said Hall. “It’s not very common that you see someone so young who dedicates so much of her time to serving God. There were many reasons why I nominated her. She’s going to be our next saint. She’s unique and special, and she’s a role model for me.”
The National Catholic Educational Association has given out the award since 1991 to educators who personify dedication to Catholic education, faith and service as a teacher to student and school families.
Hoyt relishes the many opportunities to help her students “shine and learn to serve like Christ.” “We focus on doing ‘acts of love’ each day — those little things we don’t have to do, but those things we consciously choose to do for others, out of love for Christ,” she said. “These acts of love are little things that may cheer someone or lighten his or her load. Anytime we can complete small acts of love as a class, I feel as though we’ve accomplished something special for Christ, and the children feel the happiness that comes along with serving others.”
Hoyt and her class created “Project Sunshine,” a year-long effort to bring happiness into other people’s lives. The class plans an act of love for others and then surprises them with something special. They recently sent get well cards to the church secretary.
Hoyt noted some of the other activities she and her classes have helped orchestrate for the school and church community over the years, including participating in the annual Christmas Pageant and May Crowning. She and her class also visit the chapel weekly to pray the Rosary for those in need in the school community, and they often team up with the school’s second graders to make rosaries to hand out at church.
Along with her five siblings, Hoyt graduated from St. Mary’s. “It was, and continues to be, like a second home,” she said. “We knew we were safe and loved. We were a big family. I always felt Christ’s presence at school as a child — and still do as a teacher.”
Hoyt’s favorite teacher, Judy Johnson, inspired her to pursue teaching as a profession. “She radiated love,” remembered Hoyt. “We couldn’t wait for art class each week. She was an amazing artist — creative, innovative and motivating. But most of all, I remember how Mrs. Johnson’s love for God permeated all she did — the projects she chose, the way she spoke to her students and the smiles and encouragement she would give.”
After graduating from St. Mary’s in 1997 and Marathon Central High School in 2003, she continued her education at SUNY Cortland, earning a bachelor’s degree in childhood education in 2007 and a master’s degree in literacy education in 2009.
“I cherish the sound spiritual and academic foundation I received at St. Mary’s,” said Hoyt. “I feel blessed and privileged to be back here as a teacher. I am committed to perpetuating our Roman Catholic faith and upholding our strong academic ideals.”