By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
As the 2023-2024 school year gets under way, seven Catholic schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are welcoming new principals to lead them into the future. One Aug. 2, those individuals gathered at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Springfield to meet with Brandi Borries, superintendent of Catholics schools; Dr. Mark Newcomb, who is the new director for the Department of Catholic Education; and Dawn Klinner, who is the new assistant superintendent of Catholic schools; to prepare for their new leadership roles. Other diocesan representatives also gave presentations to the principals, to introduce them to what roles they play with the diocese and to offer assistance as the new leaders move forward.
“After a rejuvenating summer, I’m excited to begin the new school year and work with our Catholic education team, Dr. Newcomb and Mrs. Klinner, to help support our principals in promoting the mission of our Catholic schools,” said Borries. “We have a great group of new principals who bring vast experience with them, and we’re looking forward to a fantastic year.”
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, students, and their parents.
St. Patrick School
Traci Friel, who is the new principal at St. Patrick School, says she has been looking forward to leading the faculty of 16 and the 190-plus students who are in grades PreK 3-8.
Because she has two sons who attend St. Patrick, she says she familiar with the school. “I have been part of this school as a parent and love the family atmosphere,” she said. “The kiddos that attend are amazing individuals and the faculty is top notch. I’m active in the Catholic faith and hope to keep that alive in our students and faculty.”
Prior to her new position, Friel taught six years at St. Teresa High School and spent one year teaching junior high students at St. Patrick. She holds a master’s from University of Wisconsin-La Cross and a master’s in education from the American College of Education.
A member of Ss. James and Patrick Parish in Decatur, Friel is married and their two sons are 11 and 12 years old.
St. Louis School
After having been a teacher for decades and being retired, Cheryl Gonet has headed back to school as the new principal at St. Louis School in Nokomis. There she will lead a staff of 10, and 64 students in PreK through eighth grade.
Gonet has a master’s from SIUE and spent 32 years at North School in Nokomis, where she taught third- and fourth-graders.
“I was truly called by God to step in out of retirement,” she said. “I went to and graduated from St. Louis School, as did my children. So, it is personal for me. This is a very special school. God is definitely at work here. The Holy Spirit is alive and well! St. Louis is a spiritual gem hidden away in Montgomery County. Practicing our faith and living a life of service is modeled daily. We (the teachers and Father Michael Meinhart) are committed to forming disciples who shine their light for others and love Jesus in a personal way. ”
Gonet has three children and nine grandchildren in California, Alabama, and in the Chicago area. She lives near her siblings and her mother, and has a brother in California. A parishioner at St. Raymond Parish in Raymond, since she moved there three years ago, she enjoys traveling to visit her family when she is not in school.
Little Flower School
Jennifer Killian is the new principal at Little Flower School in Springfield, where she leads a staff of 50 and 300 students in grades PreK-8.
Killian holds a bachelor’s of business administration degree from Loyola University, Chicago and says all of her education-related work has taken place at Little Flower.
She is dedicated to Catholic education. “I was fortunate enough to attend Catholic grade and high school and want to help make sure that opportunity continues to be available to future generations,” she said.
A member of Little Flower Parish, she is married to Brian. They have twin daughters who will be attending UIUC, a son who is freshman at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, and a son who is in the third grade at Little Flower.
Our Lady Queen of Peace School
Kim Knight is the new principal of Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Bethalto, where she is heading up a staff of 15, along with 114 students who are in grades PreK 3-8.
Knight has a bachelor’s degree in early child childhood education from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and this is her 21st year at Our Lady Queen of Peace. She also taught second grade for two years at St. Bernard School in Wood River.
“I am excited to lead my home school — where I attended grades 1-8 — as we work together to provide a wonderful education while celebrating our faith,” she said.
A member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Knight is married to Scott, who is an engineer with Crawford, Murphy and Tilly. They have one son, Jake, who is beginning college at SIUE to study psychology.
St. Mary School
Mary Rivera is happy to be the new principal at St. Mary School in Alton, where she is leading a staff of 42 and a little more than 300 students in grades PreK 3-8.
Rivera has a master’s in educational administration from Lindenwood University, and also attended Quincy University. She was an educator at Payson-Seymour High School for two years and at Marquette Catholic High School in Alton for 11 years. Additionally, she was a teacher assistant at Quincy Notre Dame High School early in her career.
“I’ve always wanted to be an educator and have spent the majority of my life learning and teaching in Catholic/Christian education,” Rivera said. “My kids now attend St. Mary’s, so I’m excited to be a part of their Catholic journey with the best faculty and staff I could ever imagine or pray for.”
Rivera and her husband, Dustin, have three sons and a daughter: Korbin, Kolten, Kobe, and Koralyn. They are members of St. Mary Parish in Alton.
Sacred Heart-Griffin High School
Teresa Saner is looking forward to the 2023-2024 school year as principal of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, which has a staff of 73 and over 525 students in grades 9-12. She will be working with SHG’s new president, Dr. Bill Moredock.
Saner has both her bachelor’s and her master’s in mathematics from St. Louis University. She has been an adjunct mathematics instructor at St. Louis University, and was a mathematics professor and division chairperson at Springfield College in Illinois, Benedictine University, and Lincoln University.
Saner, an SHG graduate, says, “All of my formal education has been at Catholic institutions, and most of my teaching/administration career has been at Catholic institutions. After spending 29 years in higher education, opportunities became available at a secondary institution, Sacred Heart-Griffin. I took a leap of faith knowing this is where I was called to be. I believe in SHG and am honored to be leading this community of educators.”
Saner, a member of Christ the King Parish, is married to Dave Saner and they have two sons, Matthew, and Andrew.
Christ the King School
Jill Seaton says she is happy to be in back in her hometown as principal of Christ the King School in Springfield. At CTK she is leading 78 staff members and 540 students who range from preschool through eighth grade.
Seaton has a bachelor’s from St. Mary of the Woods College and a master’s in education from Benedictine University. She has worked in education for 19 years, mostly in Catholic schools as a classroom teacher and most recently as an IT coordinator.
“I have a true passion for Catholic education and for doing what’s best for kids,” she said. “Springfield is my hometown and Catholic education is part of who I am today. I am grateful to have been chosen to lead Christ the King School and am looking forward to a great year.”
Seaton, a member of Christ the King Parish, is has been married to her husband, Matt, for 21 years. “Together we have six children — a daughter who at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., two sons at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, and three more sons at Christ the King,” she said.