The annual Marian Essay Contest was established through The Catholic Foundation’s Father Frank X. Zammit Endowment Fund to provide students with the opportunity to deepen their devotion to the Blessed Mother and better understand their own role as disciples and stewards of God’s grace. This year, 189 faith-filled entries were submitted from middle school students expressing their thoughts on how we can bring Jesus to others, like Mary.

Contest entries combined Catholic scripture, history, reflection and personal testimony. This year’s 1st place winner, Sarah Zobel, is an 8th grade student at Annunciation Catholic Academy in Altamonte Springs.

Sarah reflected on the idea that in order to imitate Mary, we should start by acting out of love for others instead of benefit for ourselves.

“There are countless ways to imitate Mary and bring Christ to others,” Sarah wrote in her essay. “Mary loved Jesus and cared for Him without expecting anything in return. She was humble, faithful, and brought the light of Christ to everyone. It may seem hard to detach ourselves from the natural desire for recognition, but the reward for doing so – harmony in Heaven – is so glorious that we can endure that difficult transition. We can imitate Mary by selflessly giving others gifts of love, hope, and Jesus. If we do everything out of love for others and God, we won’t have to worry about being number one, because we will know that the greatest reward is eternal life in Heaven.”

On May 22, Kimberlee Riley and Madelyn Weed of The Catholic Foundation joined Principal Patty Kahle, Fr. Ivan Olmo and the entire Annunciation Catholic Academy student body during Morning Prayer in the courtyard to announce the contest winner and present Sarah with her $1,000 grant award. The Catholic Foundation is grateful to our schools and formation partners in engaging students, and to the students submitting essays and sharing their faith and devotion to Mary.

The annual Marian Essay Contest, provided through The Catholic Foundation’s Father Frank X. Zammit Endowment Fund, is administered in partnership with The Diocese of Orlando’s Secretariat of Education. The Contest is open to 5th-8th grade students enrolled in a diocesan Catholic School, Parish Faith Formation or Youth Ministry Program.

This year’s submissions were simply outstanding and after review the following top place entries were selected along with ten Honorable Mentions:


Overall 1st Place: Sarah Zobel, Annunciation Catholic Academy

Top 7th/8th Grade Entry: Cristy Homeus, St. Andrew Catholic School

Top 5th/6th Grade Entry: Aimee Gutweniger, St. James Cathedral School


Honorable Mentions:

Caroline Byrnes, St. James Cathedral School

Sterling Cranford, Holy Family Catholic School

Stephanie Di Manno, Good Shepherd Catholic School

Madeline Eide, Annunciation Catholic Academy

Bryanna Jean Julien, St. Andrew Catholic School

Ava Lieb, Annunciation Catholic Academy

Lily Kate O’Connor, Resurrection Catholic School

Mia Paradoa-Bechtel, Good Shepherd Catholic School

Tessa Regala, St. Mary Magdalen Catholic School

Isabela Sievert, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School

Marian Essay Contest entries go through 3 stages of reviewing:

  • Preliminary: Did the entry meet the basic requirements and was it relatively free of major errors.
  • Review Committee: Each entry was then scored by two of our 22 review committee members.
  • Finalist: The top entries from each reviewing group were then ranked by the President & CEO and Vice President & CDSO of The Catholic Foundation.

The Catholic Foundation engaged a diverse group of panelists representing many perspectives of our faith family, including clergy, religious, and Catholic lay leaders to serve on the Marian Essay Contest Review Committee:

Fr. Anthony Aarons – Rector, Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

Sr. Maria Teresa Acosta, SCTJM – Executive Assistant to Bishop Noonan

Renae Bennett – Archivist, Communications Secretariat

Natalie Brown – Religious Education Coordinator, St. James Cathedral

Linda Caldwell, Marketing Director – Central Region, Education Secretariat

Dr. Isabel Fernandez -Secretary for Laity, Family and Life

Diana Garcia – Development Manager, Catholic Charities of Central Florida

Sr. Gianna Grace, SCTJM – Associate Director of Vocations

Lisa Henrickson – Legacy Gifts and Grants Coordinator, The Catholic Foundation

Kaitlin Menner – Youth Ministry Coordinator, Blessed Sacrament Clermont

Deacon Phillip Mills – Seminarian

Kyle Moore – Senior Accountant, The Catholic Foundation

Karen Monteleone – Board Member, The Catholic Foundation

Katie Phillips – Program Manager, San Pedro Development Center

Sarah Pinto – Director of Philanthropy, The Catholic Foundation

Doris Quinones – Stewardship Director, The Catholic Foundation

Marco Robles – Data Manager, The Catholic Foundation

Jannah Szeibert – Community Services Coordinator, The Catholic Foundation

Lori Tolland – Board Member/Chair of Women’s Philanthropic Giving Circle, The Catholic Foundation

Monica Vega – Catechetical Director, St. Mary of the Lakes Eustis

Elle Voorhees – Stewardship Director, The Catholic Foundation

Chris Williams, Services Coordinator, The Catholic Foundation