By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published March 5, 2015
ATLANTA—Marist Father Joel Konzen, principal of Marist School, will receive a 2015 Educational Excellence Award from the National Catholic Educational Association.
The seven recipients of the award for dedication and commitment to excellence are selected from more than 100,000 educators who serve in U.S. Catholic secondary schools. Recipients will be recognized in April during the annual NCEA convention in Orlando, Florida.
The Educational Excellence Award honors secondary school educators who have made significant contributions in a variety of roles including administrators, faculty, staff, campus ministers, board leaders, and athletic or co-curricular advisors.
Father Konzen said he learned of the nomination in December.
Principal of Marist for 23 years, Father Konzen has written about school administration for the NCEA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He assisted in the founding of Notre Dame Academy in Duluth and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. Notre Dame Academy first began as a kindergarten through eighth-grade school and will be opening its high school for the 2015-16 school year.
“I worked with both of them from day one,” said Father Konzen about the formation of the schools. “It’s a real labor of love.”
The principal also was instrumental in starting the Reach for Excellence program at Marist to prepare underserved middle schoolers for future academic success.
“Father Konzen researched for three years, prepared for two years, and began the Reach for Excellence program, housed at Marist School,” said Marist assistant principal Jenni Ellis.
The program assists middle school students in public schools by providing skills and learning necessary to be successful in college preparatory schools in Atlanta and in boarding schools throughout the United States. Students and their families make a three-year commitment to attend weekend and summer classes.
“Reach was not created to be a feeder program for Marist, but to help students who don’t have the benefits other children might to help prepare them for high school, college and beyond,” added Ellis.
‘It’s great to be in the classroom’
Having spent most of his priesthood in educational ministry, Father Konzen also served as president/principal of St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin, Texas, for five years. He is now leading a second generation of students at Marist.
English was his favorite subject to teach, said Father Konzen. He also taught theology and still finds himself as an instructor.
“For the last eight years, I have also taught a leadership class,” said Father Konzen. “It is great to be in the classroom.”
The classroom setting provides Father Konzen the chance to get to know students and their character. He is asked to write recommendations and many years later to celebrate students’ marriages. Father Konzen calls the school community “generous.”
Ellis co-teaches the leadership program, which is for older students. She nominated Father Konzen for the NCEA award.
Ellis emphasized that it was the priest’s “leadership and guidance” that were key to forming not only Notre Dame Academy and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, but also Sophia Academy. A Marist school, Sophia Academy is the first Catholic school in Atlanta to serve children with learning differences.
Although this NCEA award recognizes an individual, Father Konzen knows it’s really about teamwork at Marist School.
“We’re one fraction … one small fraction,” he said about administrators.
Marist has an enrollment of 1,085 students in grades seven through 12.
The Marist education is threefold in its goals, said Father Konzen. The objectives are to make firm disciples of Christ, to form the students in character, and to expose them to the best in academics.
“Those involved in Catholic education are the backbone of our Catholic educational system, providing day-to-day guidance in faith and academics for students at over 1,200 Catholic secondary schools across the nation,” said Christopher Cosentino, interim director of NCEA’s secondary schools department. “The excellence that awardees display is an inspiration to all of us who work in Catholic education.”