Mrs. Gracie Cantu, who teaches at Sacred Heart School in Rockport, and Mrs. Alanna Heyl, theology teacher at St. Dominic Salvo High School in Austin, are the 2024 Texas Catholic Conference Bishops' Elementary Teacher of the Year and High School Teacher of the Year, respectively.
Elementary Teacher of the Year
Gracie Cantu has been teaching for 29 years at Sacred Heart School in Rockport. She is the Early Childhood Montessori Instructor and teaches religion.
Before working at Sacred Heart, Mrs. Cantu started her own business and ran a home daycare for 15 years. When Sacred Heart opened in 1981, she enrolled her son in
Kindergarten and eventually felt called to teach at the school. She began her studies in early childhood development and earned her Montessori certification from Houston Montessori Center.
Mrs. Cantu provides a beautiful Christian example to the students and their families by serving in both big and small ways. When church facilities needed cleaning and no one was available, she used her evenings to clean them. When children are without a snack or money to buy one, she provides. When other teachers need help in working successfully with students, she is ready to offer ideas and suggestions.
A Sacred Heart parent whose three children were students of Mrs. Cantu says this about her: “I have never witnessed a teacher so excited when her students make a developmental achievement or blossom in a way that truly makes her joyful, and that does not just stop when the school day is over.”
Mrs. Cantu’s gift for teaching was discovered and nurtured when she was 12 years old. The public school she attended selected older students to help children in the early childhood program. She was observed even at such a young age to have the qualities needed for this type of work: patience, understanding, gentle spirit, trustworthiness, intelligence, respectfulness, and honesty. She thrived in her role and decided teaching young children would be her life’s work.
In addition to teaching, Mrs. Cantu is active at her parish of Sacred Heart Church in the Diocese of Corpus Christi. She is a lector, a member of the Columbian Ladies, a ministry offering meals and consolation to the bereaved, and she is a member of the Guadalupana Society which is dedicated to spreading the love of Jesus through his mother the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe.
Mrs. Cantu is married to Joe and has five grown children. She reportedly has no intention of retiring anytime soon because of her enduring love for her work at Sacred Heart School.
High School Teacher of the Year
Alanna Heyl has been teaching theology at St. Dominic Savio in north Austin for 12 years and has served as chair of the Theology department for 11 years. She currently teaches Theology IV and the upper-level course, Christian Outreach, a seminar on Catholic social teaching.
Mrs. Heyl is involved in many extracurricular programs and activities, including serving as the program coordinator of the Senior Servant Leader Project, planning the senior retreat, and helping her Christian Outreach students organize Imago Christi Day, a school-wide annual day of service during Catholic Schools Week. She is also the faculty advisor for the Catholic Relief Services Club, trains students to serve as liturgical ministers at school Masses, and has accompanied students to World Youth Day, FOCUS SEEK conferences, and on numerous mission trips.
Under her guidance and mentorship, campus ministry and other school programs are student-led, providing opportunities for them to identify their unique talents and gifts and exploring how they can use these gifts to serve others. Patrick Goertz, Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, says of Mrs. Heyl, “She works to help students see the presence of God in their everyday lives and that they have been given the grace to live out their unique vocation and calling from God.”
Mrs. Heyl grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended St. Jude the Apostle School. When she was 12, her family moved to Texas. She earned her bachelor’s degree in theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and a master’s in theology at the University of Dallas.
Mrs. Heyl has been married for 18 years and has four children who all attend Holy Family Catholic School in Austin. The Heyls are parishioners of St. Louis King of France Catholic Church.