Paonessa is being recognized as this year’s recipient of the Kevin Carr Christian Leadership Award. He will receive the award, named after Newman Theological College’s first lay president, in October.  Photo courtesy of Grandin Media

Veteran educator puts his faith into action

By  Chris Berthelot, Canadian Catholic News
  • July 2, 2018

EDMONTON – Mike Paonessa visits the Edmonton Remand Centre every week to pray the rosary with inmates, and drives around the inner-city Boyle Street neighbourhood to provide coffee and food to the needy.

To Paonessa, it’s Christian leadership — living out the faith with action. 

“We can talk about (the faith), we can read about it, we can study it, we can do all that part of it. But unless we live it and it’s a part of what we do in our lives, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference,” said Paonessa, the deputy superintendent for the Evergreen Catholic school division in Spruce Grove.

Paonessa is being recognized as this year’s recipient of the Kevin Carr Christian Leadership Award. He will receive the award, named after Newman Theological College’s first lay president, in October. 

It’s recognition he appreciates, but finds unsettling. “I’m not the type of person that goes looking for the limelight. I like to do my work in the background, so it’s a little bit odd for me,” Paonessa said, but “I’m happy and honoured to have been recognized.”

While he feels blessed by the honour, he said he can’t take all the credit. “I’m not just receiving this because of what I do, but of all the people that support me too.”

A veteran educator, Paonessa has served as teacher, vice-principal and administrator for more than 30 years. As deputy superintendent, he led the Evergreen School division’s Indigenous education projects and its response to the calls of action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Last year he led the collection of 7,500 pairs of new underwear that were given out to homeless and needy people at the Uplift Day of Mercy sponsored by Catholic Social Services

Paonessa said praying with the inmates is personally fulfilling. 

“I’m very clear with them when I sit with them, ‘You’ve made some bad choices, but that doesn’t mean you’re bad people.’ So I’m here to help support them and anything I can do, hopefully, will help them.” 

He also demonstrates faith in action by handing out coffee, muffins and sandwiches to the poor and homeless in inner-city Edmonton. St. Teresa of Calcutta, who founded the Missionaries of Charity to serve the poor, sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta, India, is a role model. 

“There’s this great quote from Mother Teresa, ‘Calcutta is right here, in our families, in our communities, in our schools,’ so we certainly can’t forget that,” Paonessa said. 

Paonessa was born in Italy and came to Canada at age five. He inherited his family’s strong faith, becoming an altar server shortly after moving to Canada. While in university, he taught catechism lessons. 

“My wife (Rosie) always bugs me, because when we got married as we walked up to do our marriage, the first thing the priest said was, ‘I didn’t think I’d see you, I always thought you were going to go to the seminary!’” said Paonessa, an active member of St. Charles Parish in Edmonton. 

(Grandin Media)

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