Golden Apple winners live, share faith

By Elizabeth Smith

Inside the classrooms of our Diocese of Greensburg Catholic schools, three exceptional educators are living their faith through their careers – and preparing the next generation of God’s disciples.

Denise Horchar, Amy Smart and Pam Cullen each earned a Golden Apple Award this year from the Diocese, after being nominated by members of their school communities.

The award honors practicing Catholic teachers based not only on their nomination, but also on their professional experience; development and leadership; service to their school, church and community; education level and a personal essay.

They received their awards at the A Celebration of Catholic Schools breakfast hosted by the Diocese this spring. And while each teacher has her own unique background, they are united by a common love of their work and their faith that guides them each day:

Pam Cullen, 16 years in education

Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School, Biology and STEM

When Cullen and her family arrived in western Pennsylvania from out of state years ago, they were in search of the right schools for their children.

“Every parent is looking for academic excellence and I felt this was the best place to put them because we wanted them to also be a part of a community,” she said.

Her children attended Aquinas Academy, Greensburg, then graduated from GCC in 2016 and 2018. Cullen joined GCC after a transition from her former career as a physical therapist.

“I absolutely love being a teacher and never regretted that change,” she said.

Sixteen years later, Cullen says she was grateful just to be nominated for the Golden Apple. She says her work is a collaborative effort between herself, her “great” colleagues and – most importantly – her students.

“Not only do I get to spend time with young people and teach them, I get to unapologetically infuse that with my faith life,” Cullen explains. “A good part of my job is not only to teach science, but teaching them to be good human beings. Seeing students going to the food pantry … or packing bags for the needy; to watch their faith and their religion translate to real life is really awesome to see every day.”

Denise Horchar, 20 years in education

Queen of Angels Catholic School, Second Grade 

Well before Horchar stepped into a classroom at Queen of Angels Catholic School, her children became students.

“We wanted our kids to be raised in a place where they were learning about their faith,” she said. “We didn’t always have answers to their questions and we wanted that support. We fell in love with this school.”

Horchar began her work as a substitute teacher, then eventually was hired for a full-time role. She says her family supported her career success with frequent understanding when her work took more time than eight hours a day.

“There are so many nights when you are up (working), but I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else,” Horchar said. “I love to watch students gain knowledge, succeed and get excited about that.

“It was never an option not to teach and I love to do it here because it really is a ministry.”

Amy Smart, 21 years in education

Mother of Sorrows School, Third Grade 

When Smart became a mother, there was no question where her children would attend school.

After many years teaching at Mother of Sorrows School and attending Catholic schools herself, she knew her children would receive the academic and spiritual guidance they needed. Her daughter is now in first grade at the school, and her son in third.

“The spiritual and educational foundation we receive is very strong,” she said. “It feels like a family here, where it feels like everyone knows you, welcomes you:”

Smart is thankful for the support of her colleagues throughout her career, and says winning the Golden Apple is a “true honor” after devoting her life to teaching.

“This is the passion that was meant for me; this was the role I was supposed to have,” Smart said. “I enjoy sharing my love of learning with my students on a daily basis. Their passion for education and learning is just what makes me feel alive.

“I love to watch their eyes light up because they learned to solve a problem or they learned an interesting fact in history and can’t wait for more.”


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