It’s easy for Kathy Lorince to experience the familylike atmosphere that she treasures at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Stuttgart, Ark. — there are only 50 students and five teachers for pre-K through sixth grade.
The school is so small, she said, “You get to know every child in the school and their families. You can really spend time with them and you can see them grow.”
Lorince, 50, is the principal and also teaches a combined class of seven first-graders and four second-graders. She taught special education in a public school for 16 years before coming to Holy Rosary 13 years ago. She made the change when her husband’s cousin, the late Father John Albert Janesko of Our Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish, recruited her. The principal at that time wanted to get back into the classroom.
Lorince converted to Catholicism after her son Alan was born in 1991. Her husband David is Catholic, and she wanted to feel comfortable raising Alan in the Church. He also attended Holy Rosary school.
“I love being a Catholic school teacher because, obviously, you can talk about God and share your faith,” she told OSV. “It’s good to be able to tell children about Jesus and what he did for us.”
The young students participate in several service programs in their delta town. They pick up in the community’s “Rid Litter Day,” visit a nursing home, collect for the local food bank, raise money for a pet shelter and have collected coats and toys for other children.
“We teach about living the Gospel, to be like Jesus and do what he would do, ” Lorince said. “He shared whatever he had, and we share, too.”
The children help Lorince deepen her own faith, she said, when she witnesses theirs growing in little ways, like being spontaneous in prayer and praying for others. She also sees their kindness when she “teaches up” to the class and the second-graders help the first-graders learn at a higher level.
“That’s one of the joys of teaching a combined class,” she said. “You learn to become more of a family.”
Sean and Andi Kane grew up in strong Catholic families but neither attended Catholic schools. Nor did they have plans to become Catholic school teachers when they enrolled in Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.
|Andi and Sean Kane teach in Catholic schools in Spokane, Wash. Courtesy of the Kanes
That changed when they experienced the Jesuit presence on campus and the sense of community. They were affected, too, in their sophomore year when Andi and others founded a musical theater program for a nearby Catholic school.
Sean later joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Connecticut. Andi worked with the Alliance for Catholic Education through the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., and ended up teaching at a Catholic school in San Antonio.
“Both programs really got us sold on Catholic education,” Sean said. “And since I kind of liked Andi, I moved to Texas.”
They returned to Spokane four years ago and were married in 2009. Now Sean, 29, is the choir director at Gonzaga Preparatory School, grades 9 to 12. He also teaches band programs at Catholic elementary schools. Andi, 28, is assistant principal and teaches music and choir at St. Aloysius Gonzaga School, which has grades K-8.
Both schools are in the Diocese of Spokane, which has three high schools and 13 elementary schools. The 4,500 students have opportunities to live the Gospel in a number of service projects such as raising money and goods for Catholic Charities’ ministries for parents, and a men’s drop-in center.
The Kanes use their musical talents to involve students in other ways to serve. Sean takes the choir to nursing homes, hospitals and a food pantry. Andi’s students perform at retirement communities and church events.
“A few years ago my junior high choir started singing at funerals in our community,” she said. “It’s nice for the families, and the students get to reverently provide that part of a ministry. It gives them a great perspective to see death as a whole circle. They are not just singing a song. They see that when they are singing, people respond emotionally, and they see the value of what they can give with their gifts.”
Teaching music at a Catholic school goes beyond composition and performance.
“A good public school choral educator is able to do the same music, for instance Mozart’s Gloria, or Ave Maria, because they’re classic pieces of literature,” Sean said. “But I can go deeper doing it at Mass, and on our faith journey we can discuss what it means to students. We can bring out the faith and passion in the music. I feel blessed to be able to present my faith through music.”
Andi called teaching in a Catholic school “a life that you are choosing.” “You are enhanced by it, and strengthened and challenged by it,” she said.
Sean credits his students for his motivation to be a better educator and to be more involved in the community.
“The kids need a person to be a good example,” he said. “That takes faith out from just going to church and making it about me and God. That’s a big part of my faith — to be able to share it with my students.”
The couple is expecting their first child, a daughter, in April. And yes, Andi said, “She’s going to go to Catholic school.”
For teacher, working at Catholic schools is ‘a noble vocation’
Julie Dwyer grew up with a Catholic education, but for the first 10 years of teaching, she taught in public schools.
“I was very content, but when our children were about to enter school, I thought it was a conflict of interest for them to attend a Catholic school when I was teaching in a public school. So I resigned,” she said. “Then it was a gift that an opening came up at St. Boniface Elementary School.”
She was there for 12 years and now teaches junior high reading and language arts at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Neb. There are 91 students, with 15 in the graduating class.
|Julie Dwyer, teacher at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Neb. Courtesy photo
Dwyer, 56, has been teaching for 28 years.
“It is a noble profession,” she said, “and when you go into a Catholic school, it takes it to a noble vocation. The public school in town does an excellent job and is a great school. But here, there are more than core academics. What counts for myself, my family and close friends is the spirituality, the love, the values and services at a Catholic school.”
The students put their faith into action by participating in several outreaches such as packaging food for Mercy Meals that are distributed globally, working in a mission house and raising funds for local charities.
“It’s not just Catholic social justice,” principal Betty Getzfred said. “The whole idea is having kids learn that our faith is all about service. It’s important for the kids to be involved in this whole idea of stewardship.”
Those kinds of projects and “planting the seeds of faith,” Dwyer said, will help the students’ “faith to blossom when they get out into the world.”
Msgr. James Gilg, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha, taught Dwyer in high school.
“She is a very dedicated teacher, full of integrity and representative of the best of what a small community can produce in terms of people and teachers,” he told OSV.
Elgin, population 800, has an agricultural-based economy. Dwyer and her husband Mark, a cattle rancher, grew up on ranches outside of town and met in school. Dwyer took a pay cut when she left the public school, but, she said, “We’re all in the same boat with the economy, but we manage.”
What’s more important than material rewards, she added, is teaching “from a Christ-centered discipline that comes from the love of Jesus.”
Principal uses lessons sisters taught him in school to help students grow in holiness
John Cominsky was nervous when he went to confession at Trinity Catholic High School in Camp Hill, Pa. Face to face with the priest, he smiled, the priest smiled back, then silence.
“You’re not Catholic, are you?” the priest asked the ninth-grader.
Cominsky said no, and that he was afraid to tell the nun who ran his class.
“We’ll just sit and we’ll make it look good,” the priest said.
|John Cominsky, principal of St. Joseph School in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Cominsky, 44, converted to Catholicism at age 17, studied Scripture in college and returned to Trinity where he taught Scripture, morality, social studies and history for 17 years. He teaches courses on the Gospels and an introduction to theology at Mount St. Mary College in Emmitsburg, Md., and this school year he became principal of St. Joseph School in Mechanicsburg, Pa., for grades K-8.
“It’s hard for me to state what Trinity and the example of the sisters did in my life,” he said. “It was the first time I ever saw religion integrated into daily life. Classes began with prayer, Mass was built into the calendar, and it was all a very powerful example of living the Gospel.”
Cominsky credits discipline, structure and high expectations for the high academic quality in Catholic schools.
“But ultimately, that’s not the reason we exist,” he said. “Catholic teachers help students to work toward their sanctification and their growth in holiness. We help to evangelize those who come to us from other faith traditions or from no faith traditions.”
His school’s motto is “Learning to Serve” and several programs put that into action. A new one is a smaller version of The Thon, a 12-hour student-generated dance marathon he moderated at Trinity. Last year it raised $43,000 to benefit families with children being treated for cancer at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
“We try to teach kids that their gifts and talents come from God and are best used in the service of other people,” he said. “I think they really get it.”
At one time, the religious provided that leadership, and that, he said “was a lot easier if you were a sister, a priest or a Christian brother.”
“The Catholic school identity is now to a large extent in the hands of the laypeople,” he said.
Those that answer the call to teach, he added, have a sense of mission and are “part of a ministry that the Church desperately needs.”
Catholic education comes full circle
When Fran Natalicchio’s fifth-grade science class recently dissected owl pellets, they discussed more than the life process and food chain in the forest.
“We talked about how this is the way that God developed life, that we are all dependent to each other, and that these are the gifts that God has given us,” Natalicchio said. “I am able to talk about faith in every subject.”
|Fran Natalicchio, recipient of a Golden Apple Award and teacher at St. Peter's in Olney, Md.
Natalicchio, 58, has been teaching in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., for 27 years, and currently teaches fifth grade at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Olney, Md.
“I always wanted to be a Catholic school teacher,” she said. “I went to Catholic schools and I wanted to teach in a faith-filled environment. My faith is very important to me and I wanted to help others with their faith development.”
Last year, Natalicchio was a recipient of a Golden Apple Award that recognizes outstanding teachers. One of the nominating parents was a former student whose daughter was in Natalicchio’s class. The woman told Natalicchio that she would never forget the prayer that opened the day when she was a student — the same one that her daughter prayed and that Natalicchio learned from a nun who taught her in elementary school.
“It is the faith carrying on,” Natalicchio said. “I am teaching the children of people who used to be my students — they are bringing their children to me and it’s going full circle.”
Natalicchio is a moderator for the school’s spiritual life committee from grades 5 to 8. The students, as the spiritual leaders, conduct prayer services under adult leadership and participate in service projects. Among other things, they make sandwiches for The Shepherd’s Table shelter in Silver Springs, and quilts for Marian Assisted Living Facility in Olney, which they also visit.
“The interaction between the children and the seniors is totally amazing,” she told OSV. “The kids are so gentle and the seniors just love talking to them.”
One girl was so touched by the encounters that she wants to become a teacher.
“That’s what we are trying to do here — help these children to find their God-given vocations,” Natalicchio said. “Every child has God-given gifts and talents, and our ultimate goal is for the children to be able to understand what God really has in store for them.”