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sledesky 053 webA man photographs Father Stephen Sledesky, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Manchester, and friends during reception in priest's honor Jan. 11.

MANCHESTER – Hundreds gathered at St. Bridget Parish on Jan. 11 to honor Father Stephen Sledesky, who was recognized as this year’s Archdiocesan Distinguished Elementary School Pastor. The award is presented annually to a pastor who exemplifies leadership, dedication and commitment to Catholic school education.

Maria Maynard, deputy superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford, presented a plaque commemorating the award after a Sunday morning Mass at St. Bridget Church. See full photo gallery here.

“Father Sledesky is a distinguished pastor and he should be commended for his efforts,” she said.  “He is an extraordinary pastoral leader and we are fortunate to have a priest of Father Sledesky’s caliber. His care and astute administration of St. Bridget School make him eminently worthy to be recognized as the 2014-2015 Archdiocesan Distinguished Elementary School Pastor.”

She said Father Sledesky is the product of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“He is a graduate of Catholic middle and high school and he appreciates the superb education he received during those years. [He is] grateful to the priests and the Sisters of Notre Dame and to the lay teachers who helped him form spiritually.”

St. Bridget School principal Mary Alice Nadaskay described Father Sledesky as being actively involved in all aspects of the school community. “The school is a priority here and the pastor is our spiritual shepherd. We are truly blessed to have such an exceptional pastor,” she said.

Mrs. Maynard said, “Father Sledesky’s relatives say that his pastoral mission is complemented only by the pleasure he finds in sharing his faith with the children of St. Bridget School.”

Father Sledesky accepted the award with pleasure and humility.

“I realize it’s not just about me. It’s about our incredible parish community, our incredible school community that is part of this parish,” he said. “I accept this award only because I accept it on behalf of everybody who works very, very hard for St. Bridget Catholic School.”

Father Sledesky credited the leadership of Mrs. Nadaskay, the professionalism of the school staff, the commitment of parents and parishioner support.

“All these things go into making it happen,” he said. “This award wouldn’t be possible without it.”

The Office of Catholic Schools has honored Catholic school pastors and administrators since the awards were established for the 2007-08 school year. This year’s Distinguished Catholic School Administrator is Maria Testa, principal of St. Stephen School in Hamden.

While Father Sledesky’s award came from the schools office, the parish and school community joined in honoring him because of the award as well as because of the positive and personal impact he makes on the lives of those he serves. Mrs. Nadasky said that the reception that followed the presentation provided parishioners with an opportunity to express their gratitude.

“The people are very appreciative of Father Stephen,” she said. “He is active and willing to do what the people need and he makes a connection with all the people.”

She provided two examples of his connection to the students at St. Bridget.

“One day he rode his bike to school,” she said. “That just made him so real for students. They were beside themselves and [surprised] that a priest would ride a bicycle. Father Stephen also performs in our drama performances. He does this every year with the children.”

The St. Bridget parish and school community needed no explanation for their pastor’s education-oriented award.