This is the second in a series of articles about ministries that are supported by the Catholic Stewardship Appeal:
Remember Maytag’s “ol’ lonely” repairman ad on television? It had this melancholic man in a blue uniform, sitting in his shop and waiting for the phone that would never ring.
The Diocesan School Office is nothing like that. Superintendent Sister Elizabeth Youngs SCL and assistant superintendent Sister Julie Brandt SSND joined the pastoral center staff in 2015. Since then, they have had little chance to be lonely or bored.
First, there are the meetings — committee meetings, accreditation meetings and planning meetings. Perhaps the most important are their meetings with principals.
The sisters gather the school administrators for personal as well as professional formation. According to Sr. Elizabeth, the vast majority of our principals did not attend a Catholic high school or college.
“That’s why reflecting on Scripture and studying Church documents is so critical,” she said. “They want to grow in their own Catholic faith to better ensure that their faculty and students grow in the knowledge and practice of theirs.”
There are 37 Catholic elementary schools and three Catholic high schools in the diocese. The sisters assist pastors and parish leadership to make the Catholic school an integral part of the parish’s ministry.
“In the fall, there is a lot of training of school boards,” Sr. Julie explained. “If the parish needs to hire a new principal, the pastor will often invite us in to train the search committee.”
Meetings, trainings and school visits are the tip of the iceberg. A lot of time is spent responding to telephone calls and emails from principals.
“Depending on the week, the two of us get anywhere from 50 to 80 contacts requesting advice or just a sympathetic ear,” Sr. Elizabeth reported.
The most critical calls involve the students’ safety. There may be a threat of violence, usually from the outside, but sometimes from a student experiencing some psychological issues.
Other subjects range from teacher maternity leave to the family situation of a student. Calls may come late at night if a teacher has been in an accident or a parent just phoned about something egregious in the classroom.
“Today I got a call from a very competent and experienced principal,” Sr. Julie said, “but now she had a second-grade class that discovered that they could find out about sex through social media.”
Sr. Julie and Sr. Elizabeth are in the school office, in part, because of their backgrounds. They have 60 years of classroom and administrative experience between them.
“Odds are that one of us has encountered a situation similar to the concern of the principal,” Sr. Julie offered.
They admit that they do not have all the answers, but cite their access to experts on the diocesan staff who may. They have enlisted the support of Deacon Joe Braddock for finances, Mike Berendzen for VIRTUS, Gala Wolfmeier for insurance benefits, and John DeLaporte for social media.
The sisters are not the only ones in the office responding to principals and pastors. Administrative assistant Paula Glynn handles scheduling and special events. She is also the go-to person for help with NCEA forms, diocesan reports, payroll questions and hiring new teachers.
“Please don’t misunderstand,” Sr. Julie cautioned, “our principals are not needy. They call because they want to do things right, because they could use a sounding board, because they want to keep us informed. We are blessed with many great principals.”
“Yes,” Sr. Elizabeth agreed, “and we hope they keep calling.”
Like the claim of that lonely Maytag repairman, Catholic schools are a superior brand. Unlike that ad, they are exceptional because of the service they receive.