By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
As the 2022-2023 school years gets under way, one Catholic high school and 11 Catholic grade schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are relying on new principals to lead the way into the future. On Aug. 2, those individuals gathered at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Springfield to meet with Brandi Borries, superintendent of Catholic schools, as well as other diocesan representatives, to prepare for the upcoming school year and their new leadership roles.
Borries was happy to meet with the new principals and has this to say about them, “We are excited to welcome 12 new principals to leadership in our diocese. They bring a wealth of experience and connections to their schools. With much gratitude to our teachers, staff, and all of our administrators, who have been tireless in their efforts in recent years, we are looking forward to another fantastic year full of faith, fun, and academic excellence.”
Let’s visit with the new principals and see what they have to say about their lives and how they aspire to make a positive impact on their staff members and students.
Blessed Sacrament School
The new principal of Blessed Sacrament School in Quincy is Lisa Berhorst. She is excited to have just begun leading 20 staff members and 215 PreK-8 students.
Berhorst has a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting from Culver-Stockton College, an MBA degree from Mississippi State University, and a master’s degree in early childhood administration from National Louis University.
She has been the director at 10th Street Children’s Academy in Quincy as well as an adjunct professor at Culver-Stockton College.
Berhorst says she is looking forward to what her new job has to offer — and what she has to offer her staff and students. “This role will allow myself to grow our student’s faith in everyday life,” she said.
Berhorst and her family are members of Blessed Sacrament Parish. She and her husband B.J. have seven children — two at Quincy Notre Dame High School and five at Blessed Sacrament.
Holy Family School
Brooke Bjorkman is the new principal of Holy Family School in Granite City, where she is leading a staff of about 16 to 18 individuals and approximately 160 students in PreK to eighth grade. She has her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Louis University and her master’s in educational leadership from SIUE.
Bjorkman began her career teaching second grade in Mehlville School District before moving to Arizona where she taught grades 1-3 for the Tempe School District. After four years of teaching in Arizona, she moved back to the St. Louis area where she was able to stay home with her children for 10 years, and attained her master’s degree. She then worked part-time as a reading specialist in the Collinsville School District before moving to Florida, where she taught children in grades K-5. “At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, I had the opportunity to move home,” she said. “At that time, I am honored to say I was hired as the new principal of Holy Family Catholic School.”
As a principal she feels passionate about guiding her school to be successful, both academically and spiritually. “This is an ever-changing and complex world we live in; it is important that our students are prepared through their faith to navigate the obstacles ahead of them,” she said. “I deeply believe in every individual in my care and am driven to keep Christ at the center of our academic days.”
Bjorkman says she is the proud mom of five vibrant kids — two that are freshman at SIUE, one that is a high school junior and two that are beginning their freshman year of high school.
Our Lady of Lourdes School
Jennifer Brummer has been hired as the new principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Decatur, where she is heading up a staff of about 25 individuals as well as 220 students in grades Pre-3 through eight. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Illinois College and a master’s degree in education administration from Grand Canyon University.
Brummer has been the assistant principal at St. Teresa High School in Decatur for the past three years. She was the junior high science teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes from 2010-2018. She has also taught science for the Pana School District, at Franklin Middle School in Springfield, and at Warrensburg-Latham Junior High.
A member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Brummer says through a variety of life experiences, God has been preparing her to be a Catholic school principal. “All my paths keep leading me back to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School,” she said. “I am equipped with the faith, passion, commitment, drive, grit, and history that it takes to be an effective leader. One of the many blessings of being in a Catholic school setting is feeling closer to God through interactions with others, enabling me to strengthen my own Catholic faith and identity and allowing me the opportunity to share my beliefs and witness with the students, families, and faculty in our Catholic school community.”
Brummer says one of her favorite quotes is, “God’s gift to you: potential. Your gift to God: developing it.” She said, “Being the principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School will help me continue my quest of getting the most out of the potential God has given me and I pray that my influence will help those around me to do the same.”
Brummer and her husband, Mark Brummer, have four children. Morgan is a 2021 graduate of St. Teresa; twins Matthew and Joseph are seniors at St. Teresa; and their youngest, Julianne, is a fifth-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes.
St. Norbert School
Gwen Burch has accepted the position as principal of St. Norbert School in Hardin, where she is leading five teachers and 56 students in grades K-8. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business management and leadership from Blackburn College, and a master’s of business administration from Quincy University.
Burch says that leading St. Norbert reminds her that she has come full circle at the school. “I had the pleasure of attending St. Norbert School as a child, and the lessons learned, especially those relating to faith formation, I have carried throughout my life,” she said. “I have closely observed and been involved in operations of the school as a parent of two current students, in addition to having served for several years on the advisory board and support club.
“Having served in those roles, combined with my experience managing the operations of our parish office, I believe will allow for a smooth transition wherein I will be able to effectively administer the operation of our school. I am excited for this opportunity to lead St. Norbert School. I look forward to working with our wonderful faculty to provide quality Catholic education for the children of our community.”
Burch continues that she is prepared to do her personal best for the school. “I will do my best, along with the staff, to instill in our students the values of our Catholic faith, and to continue the legacy of our school whereby our students have gone forth from our halls to be shining examples of scholarship, leadership, and service.”
Burch and her husband, Charles, live outside of Kampsville, with their two daughters, Charlee who is in fifth grade, and Greta who is a third-grader. They are members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Hardin.
St. Patrick Catholic School
After teaching for over 10 years, Michael Carlson says he is looking forward to leading the 65 students in grades PreK-5 and 12 staff members at St. Patrick Catholic School in Springfield.
Carlson, who has his master’s in religion and literature from Yale Divinity School and a master’s in English from Eastern Illinois University, says his background in teaching humanities subjects in Catholic and private schools will help him to help others.
“The mission of Catholic education brings good news to the poor; in the case of St. Pat’s, the students are low-income and hungry for both academic and spiritual truth,” said Carlson, who is a member of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish. “We live that mission if we treat every St. Pat’s student as Christ in unfamiliar form, inspire their minds to see the ultimate truth, and guide every soul to faith in action. I want to lead St. Pat’s because I believe that this school truly brings good news to our students and their families.”
St. Mary School
Joanne Coady is proud that she is the principal of St. Mary School in Taylorville, the place where she attended when she was a girl. There she is leading 20 staff members and approximately 35 preschool students and 100 students in grades K-6.
“I am a graduate of St. Mary School as well as my children,” she said. “I am actively involved in the parish through singing in the choir, eucharistic minister, RCIA team member, and a PSR teacher, preparing students for sacraments.”
Coady has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in special education from Eastern Illinois University, as well as endorsements in general administration and special education supervision from that university.
Coady and her husband, Mark, are the parents of Danielle (deceased), Jennifer, Johnathan, Joshua, Matthew, and Elizabeth. They also have 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
She spent nine years with Mid-State Special Education, as a teacher of self-contained elementary special education for students in grades 3-5 for eight years, and resource and self-contained teacher for grades 7-12 for one year. Additionally, Coady spent 15 years as a teacher at Central A & M CUD #21, Kemmerer Village Residential Treatment Center for grades 6-12 and then 10 years as principal at that same place.
“My inspiration to become a teacher came from my first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s, so what better way to end my career in education than at the school where it all began. I love what I do and I want to be that same inspiration to my students,” she said. “My life has come full circle.”
Timothy J. Harmon
Marquette Catholic High School
Timothy Harmon was named principal of Marquette Catholic High School in Alton after spending part of the 2021-2022 school year as the interim principal. At the school he is leading 45 to 50 faculty members and 415 students. He has a bachelor’s degree in history with a secondary education teaching certificate, a master’s degree in history, and is working on his education specialist degree.
Harmon has been at Marquette since the 2012-2013 school year. “I have held several positions at Marquette, from dual credit teachers, to boys soccer coach, to girls soccer coach, to boys tennis coach, to National Honor Society faculty monitor, to assistant athletic director, to bus driver, to dean of students, to principal,” he said, adding that he always tries to lead by example.
“In particular, I believe it is important for me as principal to show that I am strong in my faith, support the Catholic Church, have a presence in the Church, both through attending Mass and through volunteering,” he said. “I think it is important to lead with compassion. I want to show students, parents, faculty, and staff that they have a leader who cares about them and wants the best for them.
“I want the students to know that I support them through everything they do, not just schoolwork, but friendships, their walk in faith, and their overall well-being. For parents, I want them to know that they have someone who supports their mission for their sons and/or daughters in a Catholic education,” he said. “As for the faculty and staff, I want them to know they are supported in doing their jobs how they need to be done and that I am here for them whatever they may need. I believe that leadership can truly make or break a school and I hope to be a great leader for Marquette Catholic, now and in the future.”
A member of St. Mary Parish in Fieldon, Harmon and his wife, Natasha, have one daughter, Ava, who attends St. Francis/Holy Ghost in Jerseyville.
St. John Neumann Catholic School
Russell Hart says he is ready for a good year at St. John Neumann School in Maryville, where he is now leading 31 staff members and 240 students in grades PreK-8. His personal education includes a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Ball State University, a master’s degree in school administration from University of North Texas, and a bachelor’s in nursing from Wright State University.
Hart was principal of St. Joseph Freeburg for three years, principal of Gibault Catholic High School for 15 years, and for the last three years, has been a teacher at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon.
“Catholic schools are special places because their values do not change, they bring structure and moral direction to all those in the building,” he said. “The opportunity to serve again later in life is a blessing I just could not pass up.”
Hart is a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Columbia. He and his wife, Diana, have two sons, Brian and Brett.
St. Mary School
Elizabeth Hogg is the interim principal at St. Mary School in Alton. This year she is leading 25 teachers and over 15 additional staff members, along with 320 students in grades PreK-8.
She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and has spent the last 27 years at St. Mary. “This is my 28th year, with 23 years in the classroom and four years as dean of students,” she said.
“St. Mary’s has become a family to me,” she said. “We have a fantastic staff. I feel blessed to have this interim position.”
Hogg and her husband, Jim, live in Alton. They have a grown son who is a paramedic at Alton Memorial Hospital. She is a member of St. Mary Parish.
Holy Family School
Bryan Kenney is leading Holy Family School in Decatur, where he has not only attended, but has also taught in the past. There he is leading 25 staff members and approximately 250 students who are in PreK 3 through eighth grade.
Kenney has his associate’s degree in science from Richland Community College, his bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Millikin University, his master’s in elementary education from Greenville University, and his master’s in educational leadership from the American College of Education.
He taught mathematics and was athletic director at Our Lady of Lourdes in Decatur for seven years, taught mathematics and PE at Holy Family for one year, and taught mathematics for two years at Johns Hill Magnet School.
“I have been involved in some way with the Catholic school system my whole life,” he said. “I am a proud Holy Family and St. Teresa graduate, as was my mother. It is my hope that my kids will also be Holy Family and St. Teresa graduates. I have seen firsthand how great a Catholic school can be in providing an excellent faith-based education. Being in a leadership position allows me to work with the excellent staff currently in place to ensure a successful school and future for Holy Family.”
Kenney is a lifelong member of Holy Family Parish. He and his wife, Holly, have two children, Howie, 3, and Rookey, 2.
St. Louis Catholic School
J’dah Koger spent the 2021-2022 school year as assistant principal of St. Louis Catholic School in Nokomis. This year she began her first year as principal of the school, which has 17 staff members and 65 students who are in PreK through eighth grade.
Koger has her bachelor’s degree in radio, TV, and digital media from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in education administration. She was formerly a teacher’s assistant and a student activities assistant.
Koger is a parishioner at St. Louis Parish and has three children, two who are students at St. Louis School.
St. Francis Solanus School
Julie Radel is the new principal at St. Francis Solanus School in Quincy, where she is leading 24 teachers and 256 students in grades PreK-8.
Radel has a bachelor’s degree in education from Illinois College and a master’s degree in elementary education with a specialization in early childhood education from Western Illinois University. Moreover, she has 33 credit hours beyond a master’s.
Although she has been teaching first and second grade at St. Francis over the past five years, Radel spent 25 years as a public school teacher, instructing younger students.
“St. Francis is a family,” she said. “Generations are committed to Catholic education. It is such a faith-filled community with a Franciscan tradition.”
Radel is a member of St. Peter Parish. She and her husband, Ted, have a son, Joseph, who is a sophomore at Quincy Notre Dame.