From age six onward, Catholic education has been a part of Dean Sarnecki's life.
In his new role as executive director of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association (ACSTA), effective Sept. 1, Sarnecki, 52, looks forward to working with those involved in Catholic education at all levels.
"My job is to serve the Catholic school trustees of Alberta so they are knowledgeable and informed on issues of Catholic education. That seems to be the key aspect of this job," said the outgoing principal of Sherwood Park's Archbishop Jordan High School.
When Sarnecki started teaching 30 years ago, he assumed Catholic schools would be around forever, and there was no chance they would ever go away.
But with the loss of the Catholic school systems in Newfoundland and Quebec, his perception changed. Schools, as with the rest of society, are seeing more threats to religious freedom and a greater movement towards secularization. Now Sarnecki knows standing up for the right to Catholic education is imperative.
"This opportunity as executive director of ACSTA gets me more involved in this fight to maintain Catholic schools. I'd like my great grandchildren to go to Catholic schools or at least have that choice anyway," said Sarnecki.
He brings a strong background in leadership in Catholic education, with firsthand experience working in a Catholic school setting as an administrator, leader and teacher.
He attended Edmonton Catholic Schools, grew up in a faith-filled Catholic family and graduated from Austin O'Brien High School.
"I took an economics course from a Father (Russ) Pendergast, who was a Basilian at St. Joseph's College. He was probably one of my best role models ever as an economics professor and as a Catholic priest," said Sarnecki.
Sarnecki is married with three adult children. He has been a sessional lecturer at both St. Joseph's College and Newman Theological College.
He took his first teaching job in 1982 with Sherwood Park Catholic Schools. A requirement to teach in a Catholic school was to take a religion course.
"My whole faith journey has always been to learn more about my faith background. Catholic education became very important to me," said Sarnecki.
Another mentor with a great impact on his faith life was Sandy Prather. She suggested that he take classes at Newman Theological College and explore his faith in more depth. He agreed with her suggestion, and that course blossomed into a master's degree in religious education.
With Catholic education, his centre of attention had been on the education component. More and more the Catholicity became his focus.
Another mentor was Stefan Michniewski, who was the religious consultant for the school district and executive director of ACSTA for about 16 years.
Michniewski challenged him to create retreat programs for junior high students and examine new ways of presenting the religion curriculum.
That led him to Archbishop Jordan High School in 1993, teaching religion and later becoming school chaplain, coordinator for religious studies for Elk Island Catholic Schools, assistant principal and principal. Years later, with Michniewski retiring, Sarnecki takes over his position.
Also mentoring him in his faith development over the years has been the succession of priests at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sherwood Park, especially Fathers Don Stein, Wilf Murchland and Jack Hamilton.
"I think after 19 years in one school, a change was important for both the school and for me," said Sarnecki.
"New ideas, new blood are good for the school. For me to get out and see the bigger picture makes me a better teacher, a better educator."
Apart from Catholic education, Sarnecki is also involved in the Knights of Columbus, coaches hockey, lacrosse, ringette and school sports.