Fall Faculty Meetings Celebrate Faith & Service

Bishop Edward M. Rice and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Deacon Rob Huff, recently hosted the annual two Fall Faculty Meetings under the banner of “Our Faith, Our Future.” These gatherings, held Oct. 19 in Cape Girardeau and Oct. 20 in Springfield, serve as an occasion of fellowship and faith to recognize the service of all Catholic school educators, celebrate the great gift of Catholic education, and to present the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award to two teachers.

Deacon Rob Huff, who also serves the Diocese as Chancellor, welcomed and thanked everyone for their service to Catholic education. The meetings were held in Notre Dame Regional High School, on Oct. 19, and in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School on Oct. 20. The Most Reverend Edward M. Rice, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, celebrated Mass with all in attendance and spoke to the group about “The Identity of the Catholic School.” The featured guest speaker, Patty Schneier, who uses song, Scripture, and humor to candidly discuss the joys of living a faith-filled life, presented a morning session entitled, “Jesus in the Eucharist: The Source and Summit of EVERYTHING.” Her afternoon presentation was, “Theology of the Body in Bite-Size Pieces.” Schneier is from St. Louis and the author of Love Letters from Mom on What Matters Most.


In addition to recognizing the various service landmarks of the Diocese’s dedicated teachers, the highlight of these meetings is the presentation of two Distinguished Teacher Awards. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for their leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy toward Catholic education. This year, one of the two Distinguished Teacher Awards went to Denise Darst, 3rd – 8th grade math teacher in St. Eustachius Catholic School, Portageville, MO. In addition, Darst is also home-room teacher to 5th and 6th graders, and the 3rd and 4th grade religion teacher. The second award was given to Leah Speakes, 8th grade and middle school science teacher in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School (SEAS), Springfield, MO.


In addition to teaching math, Darst, volunteers to run concession stands, tutors, leads the daily rosary during Lent, completes an annual “Saints” learning project with students; sponsors math competition team, and has been a past cheerleading sponsor. Within her parish, she is the current president of Ladies Sodality, in which she has been an active member for over 30 years; the St. Eustachius PSR Youth Group Leader, and she annually attends the Steubenville Mid-America Youth Conference in Springfield and the National Youth Conference in Indiana with the youth group. She has been a Camp counselor for Camp Re-NEW-All over 20 years and has planned Totus Tuus summer camps for the past several summers. Darst is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council and started a weekly Lenten Book Club.

“Her philosophy of Catholic education starts with teaching students about their faith through example…by modeling the Gospel values,” said Tricia Rone, Principal of St. Eustachius Catholic School. “She is encouraging, kind, and sets a positive example. She strives to connect her students to God and to help them build a relationship with him. Denise wants her students to be the best version of themselves and wants them to love the Mass. She wants to make a difference and an impact on each and every student that walks through her door. She makes sure her students feel loved and valued. In the end, what’s important to her


Denise Darst was presented the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award by Superintendent Rob Huff. Darst is a 3rd-8th grade math teacher in St. Eustachius Catholic School, in Portageville. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy of Catholic education. (The Mirror) 

is they leave St. Eustachius School knowing God loves them and in return, they have the desire and the faith to walk a Christian path.” In nominating Darst, Rone said, “It is hard to put on paper all the many things Denise has done over the years. She literally does anything and everything. She has a true servant’s heart. Denise has not slowed down for 36 years. She is loved by her students, peers, and parish community. [She] is beyond deserving of this reward.”


As an educator, Speakes, has completed her certification in Religious Education and serves as an Eucharistic Minister for her school and church. She organized and sponsored a summer trip to Washington DC for students at SEAS to provide an opportunity for her students to learn history beyond what a textbook provides. Her love of history led her to begin Camp Intervention at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Camp Intervention is a nationally-recognized STEM program that teaches learning through creativity and experimentation. She is certified by NASA to handle and share Moon rocks at STEM night in SEAS. Speakes is currently the Assistant Robotics Coach. For the past 11 years, Speakes has been the head coach of Science Olympiad, Middle School Coordinator, and a sponsor of the Student Council. She has served as a mentor for new teachers. She helped develop an after-school Study Hall program for students. And, she fosters volunteerism with her students through coordinating 30 hours of service in the community and church.

“It is in the verse from Galatians 5:13…serve one another through love…that I think of Leah’s


Superintendent Rob Huff awarded Leah Speakes the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award. Speakes is an 8th grade and middle school science teacher in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, Springfield. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy of Catholic education. (The Mirror) 

philosophy of Catholic education,” said JoAnne Bailes, Principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. “Leah sees Catholic education as an avenue to instill a love for learning and a love for one another. She leads with compassion, expecting the best from her students because of her love for them. Leah is focused on teaching students a love for learning, especially science, but her primary focus is building servants of the Lord. Her goal as a Catholic teacher is to model serving the Lord so that her students leave St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, they will go out into the world making it a better place for others.”

“As an educator, Leah creates an atmosphere of positivity and respect within her classroom, parish, and church,” Bailes said. “I nominated Leah Speakes because of her dedication to our Springfield Catholic School system. Her faith life and love for learning are infectious. When you walk into her classroom, it is undeniable that she is passionate about science and her Catholic faith. As you look in one corner, you will see a cross made of recycled steel rods. In another corner, you will see a skeleton wearing a top hat. She lives her life with a desire to build her students up and to prepare them for the next steps in life. Year after year, I hear students and parents express their love for Mrs. Speakes and how she changed their lives. In my 20-plus years in education, I have not met a more accomplished and beloved teacher.”

The fall faculty in-service days are made possible by contributions to the annual Diocesan Development Fund (DDF).

“It is always a pleasure to gather with the faculties of our schools,” Deacon Huff said. “The Diocese is blessed to have such a wonderful group of educators.”

Written by Paula Wright

Published on November 11, 2022 in The Mirror