Sunday, 30 May 2021 21:35

"I thank God every day for the gift He has given me to teach these wonderful children"

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In this edition of Catholic Times, we feature several Catholic school teachers from across the diocese who retired at the end of this school year. These teachers spent decades shaping minds and building disciples. They built up the Kingdom of God in our diocese and joyfully lived out our faith in their classrooms. We also list those who retired and how many years they taught children in service of the church both in our Catholic schools and at Parish Schools of Religion (PSR).

Donna Schroeder

Christ the King, Springfield

Donna SchroederChrist the King (CTK) School opened in 1958. Donna Schroeder was a second-grader then. Little did she know at that time, not only would she teach there, but spend 32 years in the school.

“I have walked into work for 32 years knowing this is where I want to be, and I love what I do,” Schroeder said. “I will miss the children very much. They have given my life so much meaning. We have had so many opportunities to help children grow at CTK.”

Schroeder retired after teaching sixth grade, but she also taught kindergarten, second, and fourth grade. She said she stayed at Christ the King year after year because she always felt respected, and the classrooms are large, bright, and beautiful.

“CTK has always given me a sense of security and unending joy,” Schroeder said.

In addition to that, she says that she loved teaching in a Catholic school because she was able to nurture the students in our Catholic beliefs and hopefully helped build a strong moral foundation for them that will last a lifetime.

“The most impactful thing I have witnessed at CTK has always been the abundant generosity of the children and families,” Schroeder said. “Whenever they are asked to give, donate money, or give their time, they have always responded with an overwhelming positive response. They open their hearts and the charity flows. No questions asked, they have always delivered!”

Schroeder’s plans for retirement include taking care of a new grandchild. She will also spend time cherishing the more than three decades teaching in the same school that shaped her as a young child.

“I look back and hope I have been a positive influence in the lives of the students I have taught,” Schroeder said. “I hope that they remember me with a smile and remember the laughter we shared. I hope that I nurtured their curiosity of learning, initiated a sense of wonder in their lives, and provided them with a sense of purpose and a strong faith identity.”

Maureen Makarewicz

St. Francis Solanus, Quincy

Maureen MakarewiczForty-five years. Imagine spending nearly a half-century in the same place for your job. For Maureen Makarewicz, that place has been St. Francis Solanus in Quincy.

“I love the family atmosphere at our school,” Makarewicz said. “I love the tradition. For example, my mom graduated from St. Francis, my siblings and I are graduates, as are my children, grandsons, and a nephew. I have been blessed to teach two generations of students. Mostly, I love teaching children about my faith. I was lucky to teach kids about first Eucharist and reconciliation. I can’t imagine teaching each day without bringing faith into a lesson. I realized quite early in my career that teaching at St. Francis wasn’t a job, it was a vocation.”

Makarewicz most recently taught preschool, but over the decades also taught first grade through fourth grade. Most of the years, she spent teaching kindergarten. She says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.

“I have been impacted the most by witnessing the faith of children,” Makarewicz said. “Praying with them is special to me. I remember several years ago one of my students asked if the class could pray for her grandpa. He was ill. I told her that of course we would. God listens so closely to the prayers of children. She came to me several days later and told me her grandpa died. She was upset with me. She said that I had told her God would listen to our prayers. I took a breath and explained that God did hear our prayers. We prayed for the best thing to happen to him. I went on to say that losing her grandpa was difficult for her, but he was pain free with God in Heaven. What better place is there to be?”      

During retirement, she plans to “work full time” as a wife, mom, and grandmother, spending time with her siblings and extended family. She also wants to volunteer in the parish, especially in the school, tutoring and helping teachers. She also plans to continue to work on a special cancer fundraiser at the school.

“I have been blessed to work with some awesome teachers and staff members,” Makarewicz said. “I have been blessed to work with some wonderful parents. Mostly, I have been blessed to share a classroom with the best children I know. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my career. I am blessed to have spent my 45 years working directly with children. As far as I am concerned, there is no better job.    

“My years at St. Francis have made my faith stronger. I have been a witness to so many powerful moments. One of the many special moments I shared with my students was when Pope Francis was elected. The children and I watched for that white smoke. When it finally appeared, my little kindergarten students cheered. When he chose the name Francis, I think some of my students believed it was because of them. I have seen God in so many of my students and co-workers. I was led to this job, and I learned early on that teaching in a Catholic school is a privilege.”

Trish Penning

St. Agnes, Springfield

Trish PenningTrish Penning wanted to become a kindergarten teacher ever since she was a little girl. Not many people get to live out their childhood dream, let alone for 46 years, as Penning taught the grade she dreamed about all these years at St. Agnes.

“I stayed because St. Agnes School became my family, too,” Penning said. “It has such a welcoming atmosphere among the faculty, the students and the parish. I love having the sons and daughters of former students! I love asking them what they remember about kindergarten and they rattle off many fond memories of our adventures together. I loved going into space with them, having an elegant event, and practicing our money and manners; exploring dinosaurs and becoming paleontologists and digging for dinosaur bones was a terrific time. I love how the little ones become so engaged in what they are learning that they don’t even know they are learning. I love teaching my faith to these children. I love acting out the Last Supper, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus that becomes a part of their life. I love how they begin to have a lasting relationship with Jesus by going into their Heart Room and talking to Him. Seeing these children discover the wonder of reading is still so amazing to me. I love exploring science by doing the life cycles of the chicken and butterfly.” 

As a graduate of St. Agnes, Penning says that she just loves learning and loves continuing to learn every day. In the classroom, one of her favorite joys was witnessing the bonds children form with each other and Jesus.

“I just don’t teach religion at religion time, but all day long,” Penning said. “I teach them to stop what they are doing when they hear a siren and say a prayer, because that person might need an ambulance, a police officer, or a firefighter. Many of the children as adults tell me they still do that with their own children. It breaks my heart to stop teaching, but I don’t think I can ever stop learning. I can honestly say I love teaching, and there hasn’t been a day that I didn’t want to walk into that room. Yes, there were challenges over the years, but my faith helped me get through them. I can’t believe it is time to retire. I thank God every day for the gift He has given me to teach these wonderful children.”

Darlene Esker

St. Anthony High School, Effingham

Darlene EskerWhether it was St. Anthony Junior High in the 1970s or St. Anthony High School from 1998 to today, Darlene Esker has loved her 30 years teaching in Catholic schools.

“When I was in high school, I could always help my fellow classmates understand the math problems, so teaching seemed to be a path to follow,” Esker said. “I want all my students to learn math, so I have multiple ways to explain concepts.”

Her math resume speaks volumes: Algebra I, Integrated Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Integrated Geometry, Geometry, College Prep Algebra, and College Algebra. Despite her love for numbers, it is our Catholic faith that Esker says she loves the most about teaching in Catholic schools.

“I like starting the day with prayer, having a school wide meal prayer, and prayer at the end of the day,” Esker said. “I like going to weekly school Mass — the students growing in their faith and wanting to learn.”

When Esker was asked to teach at St. Anthony High School, her children were just starting at St. Anthony Grade School. As a graduate of St. Anthony, she said she wanted her children to go there as well, and St. Anthony allowed the family to be on the same schedule.

During retirement, her plans are to spend time with her children and to remain very active. This includes coaching girls and boys tennis, gardening, making quilts, painting, playing tennis and pickleball, traveling, and trying new things. She will also have time to contemplate all the past decades teaching in Catholic education.

“I have seen so many students grow in their maturity, knowledge, and faith,” Esker said. “They are so grateful for all we have given them. So many college students return to visit and let us know how much they appreciate all we made them do to be ready for college. We know that our graduates will be the next workers, teachers, and leaders in the community.

“I realize God has a plan for each of us. Everyone is an individual with his own strengths. We hope to show these students that they must use their talents to become the best they can be. I teach different levels of math, and I see that they not all can be taught in the same way. I have learned that I can do my best, but I cannot make the student excel all by myself. The students must do their part also.”

Katie Hastings

St. Boniface, Edwardsville

Katie HastingsFor 44 years, Katie Hastings has taught at St. Boniface School. While she has changed grades often, teaching kindergarten through sixth over the years, one thing has remained the same: her love of her job and love of St. Boniface.

“I stayed at St. Boniface because I felt at home from the moment I started teaching there,” Hastings said. “My faith was important to me and at St. Boniface I could live that faith more fully. I realized that it was where I needed to be. My colleagues were amazing to work with, and I grew very close to many of them. I wouldn’t want to teach in a school without their support and camaraderie.”

Hastings says that she wanted to be a teacher as far back as she can remember, always enjoying going to school and learning new things. She wanted to impart that same love of learning to children, saying she had very special teachers who inspired her during her years at St. Paul Grade School and High School in Highland.

“I love teaching at a Catholic school because I can talk freely about our Catholic faith,” Hastings said. “It is so easy to connect that faith to other lessons throughout the day. I can’t imagine not praying every day with my young students or talking about God’s great love for us and how that love is manifested in our lives.”

Hastings says living out our Catholic faith in school is also the most impactful thing she has witnessed over her 44 years. The faith of young children, their inquisitive nature about the faith, and student’s comments “humble” her, she said.

“They just want to know and understand more about the faith and what it means to follow Jesus,” Hastings said.

As for retirement, Hastings plans to spend more time with her husband and travel the United States. She is also looking forward to spending more time with family and friends, reading, doing puzzles, and maybe be a substitute teacher at St. Boniface.

“Thinking back over the last four decades of teaching, I can’t believe it has gone by so fast,” Hastings said. “I think of all the children that I had the privilege and honor of teaching, and I hope that I have inspired them in some way to enjoy learning and to use their talents for the good of others. I think about all of the wonderful parents who supported me. I would tell them that working together, we can accomplish great things for their children. I also remember my dear students who have died far too soon. I know that they are enjoying everlasting happiness with Jesus in Heaven.

“It is so true that the more you teach, the more you learn. By teaching my Catholic faith all of these years, my own faith has grown so much stronger. These young children have inspired me to become a better person and a better follower of Christ. I have learned that I need to turn to God with the innocence and absolute trust and faith that children possess. I have taught my students about their Catholic faith, math, reading, science, social studies, and English, but in the end, they taught me so much more.”

Shaping minds, building disciples

Catholic school and PSR teachers, and principals, who retired this year from across the diocese and how many years they taught in Catholic education

Catholic school principals, teachers:

Marquette Catholic High School (Alton)
Mike Slaughter, principal (43 years)

Ss. Peter and Paul (Collinsville)
Debbie Bozzardi (29 years)

Holy Family (Decatur)
Patricia Brinkoetter (29 years)

St. Patrick (Decatur)
Mary Beth Mumaw (47 years)

St. Teresa High School (Decatur)
Arlis DeJaynes (35 years)

St. Boniface (Edwardsville) 
Gay Anschutz (14 years)
Katie Hastings (44 years)

St. Mary (Edwardsville)
Diane Wepking, principal (41 years)
Deborah Caulk (21 years)

St. Anthony High School (Effingham)
Darlene Esker (30 years)

 Father McGivney High School (Glen Carbon)
Jill Griffin (5 years)

Our Savior (Jacksonville)
Becky Russotto (14 years)
Don Jolly (15 years)

St. Francis/Holy Ghost (Jerseyville)
Debby Allen (23 years)

St. Louis (Nokomis)
Barbara Powley (16 years)

Blessed Sacrament (Quincy)
Annette Johnson (40 years)
Karen Finson (30 years)

Quincy Notre Dame High School (Quincy)
Pat Lask (41 years)
Dianne Deters (46 years)

St. Dominic (Quincy)
Donna Richmiller (36 years)

St. Francis (Quincy)
Carla Slough (36 years)
Maureen Makarewicz (45 years)

Blessed Sacrament (Springfield)
Tina Morehead (10 years)

Christ the King (Springfield)
Donna Schroeder (32 years)
Mary Shelia Tracy (5 years)
Karen Giganti (34 years)

Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (Springfield)
Chris Edmonds (30 years)
Michelle McHenry (27 years)

St. Agnes (Springfield)
Karen Cummins (22 years)
Trish Penning (46 years)
Rita Stuewe (22 years)
Connie Tozer (26 years)
Terri DePatis (4 years)

St. Michael (Sigel)
Mick Deters (5 years)

Parish School of Religion

(PSR) teachers:

St. Thomas (Camp Point)
Pam Clampitt (18 years)

Ss. Peter and Paul (Collinsville)
Dorothy Anson (35 years)
Debbie Bozzardi (32 years)

St. John Paul II (Mt. Olive)
Linda Hasquin (34 years)
Nicole Sellers (12 years)

St. Patrick (Pana)
Mary Morrell (21 years)

St. Jude (Rochester)
Frances Tomashavich (40 years)

Thank you to our Catholic school principals, teachers, and PSR teachers for your steadfast dedication to our faith, your unconditional love of teaching children, and advancing our faith to your students with abundant joy. Happy retirement!