The banquet hall of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was filled with supporters last Saturday to cheer on the local Our Lady of Mercy School during the Harvest of Hope dinner organized by Catholic Charities.
This annual event celebrates the generosity of local residents, as well as highlights individual efforts, groups and organizations that bring positive change to the community.
Many distinguished local residents, business owners and dignitaries attended the event, including Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of the Fresno Diocese.
The highlight was a grand honor — the Ministry of Presence Award — bestowed upon Our Lady of Mercy School for its near century of service to the Merced area.
“To think that Our Lady of Mercy School has been in our community for 96 years is simply amazing,” said Jeff Negrete, the executive director of Catholic Charities. “Congratulations to Principal Judy Blackburn and to you dedicated staff. And for the many faithful families who have supported Our Lady of Mercy school, thank you and congratulations.”
After making her way to the stage, OLM Principal Judy Blackburn spoke about the tenets that guide both her, her faculty, and its students.
“When we found out we were going to be honored, it was grand, and I shared the news with faculty and staff — because it’s all about them,” Blackburn said, and then pointed to a gathering of OLM students near the stage, “except it’s also all about them.”
She continued, “My love for OLM school, Catholicism and service, stems from my parents, especially my mom who served so much from the school. Our Catholic identity is so so important, and it is very important to me.”
Speaking about OLM’s track record of community service, both during her time as a teacher and principal, Blackburn said: “We’ve always been involved with the service of Catholic Charities, but I have to say that this last year especially we’ve connected really well. … Academics are a given for us, we do that and we do it well, but teaching our children what it is to be of service to the community, and many of them continue to do so into high school and beyond that, that is what we feel our legacy is, and what I feel our legacy is.
“It is teaching them how to love thy neighbor and reach out to them and be a part of the helping of others. I tell my students that, if nothing else when you go home you need to have your relationship with God. Their relationship with God, not my relationship, not their parents, their relationship with God, and service is such a big part of that, and reaching out to their neighbor and being the face of Jesus Christ.”
Blackburn said that when she looks at “Those children over there, and those young ones, they are the face of Christ for us, and teaching them that they need to be the face of Christ, and the arms, hands, and legs of Jesus Christ in service, and by being good people, that is what Our Lady of Mercy School is about.”
As she turned to accept the Ministry of Presence award from The Most Reverend Joseph V. Brennan, Blackburn noted that she was humbled by the award. “When we do things, and we teach our kids this: that we don’t want to be acknowledged, we don’t want to be rewarded, we just want to give our heart because we know that someone else needs this.”
“We’re trying to get them to be Christ for one another, and so our Catholic identity is so so important and I talked to my teachers about this all the time, and that is the No. 1 thing that we want people to know, is that were Catholic and proud of that. And what that entails is responsibility to be Christ to everybody and one another. We are very very honored. We’ve received awards for many things but this one to me, for the school, means more than anything because it is saying that our students, and my staff, and parents are being Christ-like.”
Following her acceptance of the award, Bishop Brennan spoke about his interactions with both Judy Blackburn and Our Lady of Merced School.
“What you’ve said about the school rings so true,” the bishop said. “This award is called the Ministry of Presence award, and you and your faculty have really hit the nail on the head. All of the folks who have walked the halls and gone through their formative years in education since 1927 know this. It is truly the presence of Christ that we bring, and that we want the students and all of the children associated with the school to hold in their hearts. I’m very proud to present this to you on behalf of all of them, and everyone in the history of OLM school. God bless you.”