The District of San Francisco New Orleans (SFNO) played host to the 44th annual Huether Lasallian Conference November 16-18, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. This was the first time that the Conference had ever been held in the Mile High City.
Sponsored by the Office for Lasallian Education at Christian Brothers Conference, the Huether Conference is an opportunity for educators not only learn new techniques and find inspiration, but also to build community, share best practices, and grow more deeply committed to their vocation of providing students with transformative, holistic experiences.
Sixty-two Lasallians from SFNO were among the more than 200 attendees who gathered at the Grand Hyatt Denver Hotel to explore this year’s theme: “One Call, Many Voices: Dialogue, Inspire, Transform.” The theme, which was drawn from the Lasallian Reflection for the 2016-2017 liturgical year, “One Call, Many Voices,” challenged participants to consider both how we lend our voices to the world of education and how we give voice to those who are entrusted to our care, especially the poor and marginalized.
Prior to the Conference’s official start, several other Lasallian meetings and gatherings took place, including the Lasallian Education Council (LEC), and the Regional Communications Team (RCT). In addition, Lasallian school development professionals took part in a pre-conference advancement track. Offered for the second consecutive year, the track featured a networking reception, a keynote address by Colleen O’Grady, philanthropic strategist at Lipman Hearne, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois, and four sets of breakout sessions.
Also, 75 Lasallians who were first-time Huether Conference attendees gathered for a pre-event social. Director of Lasallian Services Sarah Laitinen welcomed the group to their first Conference, and Huether Conference planning committee members helped to introduce the “first-timers” to the Conference experience.
The Conference then opened on the evening of the 16th with an opening prayer service and welcomes from Office for Lasallian Education at Christian Brothers Conference director Mark Freund and SFNO Visitor Brother Donald Johanson, FSC. These were followed by a presentation by Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, D.Min., vice president for mission at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a panel discussion facilitated by Mike Daniels, Ed.D., director of the Office for Education in the District of San Francisco New Orleans.
Brother Ernest’s address focused on the topic of “prophetic listening” as a fundamental call to all Lasallian educators, while the panel fielded questions on their own professional and personal journeys and insights. Panel members were Elizabeth Berkes, De La Salle High School, Concord, California; Br. Thomas Casey, FSC, Auxiliary Visitor, District of Eastern North America; and Peg Hodapp, Lasallian Animator, De La Salle High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Day two of the Conference began with a prayer service that included students from Denver’s Mullen High School. The day’s keynote presentation, which was sponsored by Christian Brothers Services, was made by Ann Garrido, D.Min., associate professor of homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. A popular author and public speaker who has been featured at other Lasallian gatherings, Garrido invited participants into a discussion around difficult conversations that can impact educators’ ability to collaborate in mission.
“Ann’s work,” said SFNO Communications Director Bob Carrejo, “has been a real contribution to our understanding of just how important it is to our ministry that we work hard with one another at healthy communication.”
The remainder of the day’s schedule included participants attending breakout sessions and also their pre-assigned “casa” conversation groups. That evening, Districts gathered their members at local restaurants for dinner, after which was held a social hosted by Young Lasallians.
Day three’s morning prayer service was followed by keynote presenter Elizabeth Huntley, J.D., litigation attorney and child advocate, author and lecturer from Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. Huntley delivered a deeply personal and powerful address on her troubled upbringing and the life-changing impact educators had on her.
New Orleans’ Christian Brothers School kindergarten teacher Jen Vanderbrook could relate to Huntley’s message about the importance of early childhood education.
“She talked about pre-K and kindergarten and first grade,” Vanderbrook said, “(and) how the early childhood years were so important to forming who she would become later and the people that she met. It just gets me to realize how important I am to those kids.”
More breakout sessions and casa conversations rounded out the morning’s agenda. Attendees enjoyed an afternoon of free time to explore Denver, many of whom were visiting the city for the first time.
The Conference came to a close that evening with the Distinguished Lasallian Educator Awards Banquet which annually celebrates outstanding educators in each of the Districts of the Lasallian Region of North America. This year’s District of San Francisco New Orleans honoree is Timothy DeNezza, social studies teacher at Mullen High School in Denver.
The award was presented by SFNO Office of Evangelization and Catechesis director Charles Legendre, FSC. De Nezza’s award citation read, in part, “He embodies the Lasallian spirit and transforms the lives of our students by inspiring them to take risks and push beyond their academic and personal boundaries. His ability to build relationships with students so that they believe in themselves and accomplish more than they ever could have imagined is extraordinary. Tim is an individual who is truly selfless for the betterment of his school community and, most importantly, his students.”
“It’s an amazing honor,” DeNezza said as he was surrounded by his family and many of his Mullen High colleagues. “I know that not many people get this honor, so to be chosen is really nice recognition of a lot of years of a lot of hard work.”
Over the Conference’s three days, through keynote addresses, breakout sessions, casa discussions, and time spent with fellow Lasallians, participants found themselves reinvigorated and reconnected to their vocation. In many ways, this is the ultimate take-away of the Huether Conference. As six-time attendee Chris Giangregorio, vice-principal at De La Salle Academy in Concord, California, explained, “These conferences are really important to me because they help (you) break out of the day-to-day routine of being connected to the one school site that you’re at and literally put you in partnership, in collaboration with the greater Lasallian community.”
The 2018 and 2019 Huether Conferences are both scheduled to take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota.