New infant, early childhood center to give access to daycare to J.C.-area Catholic school employees


A triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an answer to prayer for families involved in Catholic education in and near Jefferson City.

A generous gift and a providential turn of events means the infant children of Catholic school educators at Helias Catholic High School and nearby schools will have access to affordable, quality, faith-based daycare before the new school year begins.

“This is an exciting and crucial thing. It’s going to make a difference,” said LeAnn Rockwell, newly-appointed director of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Child Development Center, which will open Aug. 7.

An open house is planned for late July. 

The center, located on Scott Station Road in the Capital City, will provide affordable childcare for infants and very young children of diocesan employees as well as employees of parishes and schools of the diocese.

Its primary focus will be on helping to attract and retain teachers to work in Catholic schools.

“I know when parents are at work, either if a child is preschool-age or infant age, it’s very important to have that piece of mind to know your child is getting the best possible care and direction that they can get,” said Mrs. Rockwell.

The new director is an experienced early childhood educator who previously ran the after-school and summer camp programs at Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City.

The new center’s name honors the Immaculate Heart of Mary, patroness of the Jefferson City diocese.

“Who else’s heart would you want to entrust your kids to than hers, filled with a mother’s love for her son and for all of us?” said Zachary Rockers, a teacher, coach and campus minister at Helias Catholic High School, who helped bring the center into being.

Erin Vader Ed.D., diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said the center will be explicitly Catholic.

“It will be a faith-filled environment in which these children can grow,” said Dr. Vader. “We don’t want it to just be a convenient place that’s affordable for parents, although that’s important. But the most important thing is that we are bringing these little people and their families closer to God.”

She said it’s clear that the scarcity of childcare is a major factor keeping many good teachers out of the classroom.

“We have outstanding educators at our Catholic schools,” she stated. “We need to do everything we can to continue attracting the best talent to our teacher positions.

“This new child development center is an effort to address this concern, providing affordable, Catholic childcare so our teachers and other diocesan employees are supported as they return to our workforce,” she said.

“It’s a win-win,” said Mr. Rockers. “This a way for our kids to be loved and cared for in an awesome child development center, and the teachers can continue to love, support and teach the children of our diocese.

“At the same time, the schools will be able to attract gifted teachers and retain the ones they have,” he said.

Bridging the gap

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Child Development Center was made possible by a generous Catholic donor who enabled the diocese to acquire a childcare facility, which was previously Growing Hearts Montessori School.

When it reopens as Immaculate Heart of Mary Child Development Center, the facility will care for children as young as infants and as old as 3 years.

“The goal is for this to bridge the gap between birth and preschool at their parish school,” said Dr. Vader. “All the Catholic schools here have preschool available for 3-year-olds and up.”

Expected initial capacity, based on space and staffing constraints, will be between about 30 and 35 children.

Keeping the service affordable for families will be a high priority.

So will the faith component.

“Catholic school is never just about the kids. It’s always about the family,” Dr. Vader noted. “Our job is to support the parents as the first and best teachers of their children. And kids are the best evangelizers.”

Similar to two Catholic high schools in the diocese, the center has its own board of directors led by Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, with bylaws for the board to follow and Dr. Vader giving oversight on the bishop’s behalf.

The center is provisionally accredited through the Missouri Nonpublic School Accreditation Association, which is the organization that does the accreditation for all our schools and is recognized by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

It will operate under a religious exemption while obtaining its license from the state, which takes about a year.

“We understand the importance of being licensed by the state, but we also see that the need for this is now,” said Dr. Vader.

“Something new”

Dr. Vader said the diocese is fortunate to have Mrs. Rockwell, following her 23-year career at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Jefferson City.

Her work there included directing the afterschool program for 18 years. She also developed the Immaculate Conception Summer Camp program and directed it for 13 years.

Mrs. Rockwell previously operated a licensed daycare for 12 years so that she could stay home with her three young children.

“I know how important it is to have high-quality, affordable childcare,” she stated.

“I’m excited about this opportunity to ensure our teachers and other employees have a loving, Catholic childcare option here in our diocese,” she said.

She will be responsible for scheduling, hiring staff, working with state licensing and local code compliance, and offering a service for parents.

She emphasized the importance of helping parents instill faith and love of God, even with infants and small children.

“It’s exciting to be able to lay that groundwork with them,” she said.

She said she enjoys a challenge and a chance to help build something from the ground up.

She also likes working with families and promoting family life.

“It’s exciting to be part of something new,” she stated. “And I love early childhood — it’s always a very fun and exciting thing to be involved in.”

She pointed to other nonnegotiables: “The nurturing, the love, the guidance and the safety of the program, and the growth. You want it to be a happy, safe place for the children to come to.”


“Little opportunities”

Mr. Rockers and his wife Luci welcomed a son into the world on May 27.

“We realized early on that we would need childcare,” Mr. Rockers stated. “We called around for months and found that there wasn’t any room, especially not for newborns and infants.”

He and Liz Twyman, director of accommodations at Helias Catholic, talked to Dr. Vader about possibly opening an early child development center at Helias Catholic.

The scope of the discussions turned to the need to help Catholic educators throughout the community.

“I think being a Catholic school teacher is far more a vocation than an occupation,” said Mr. Rockers. “It’s a calling. And with that, there are so many blessings and joys, but there also are sacrifices you have to make.

“We want to keep being teachers because God has called us to it and it fills us with joy,” he said. “But it sure can be difficult to do that when you worry about who can care for your child so you can be present with the students we educate at school on a daily basis.”

When the fully furnished former Growing Hearts Montessori School became available, anonymous donors stepped forward to help the diocese buy it.

“The donors are very humble, kind and so generous,” Mr. Rockers stated.

He said he’s grateful to Dr. Vader for her openness to the idea, and to numerous people throughout the community who have offered guidance, insight and expertise “to help make this dream a reality.”

“I think a lot of time, God puts those little opportunities in your life to hopefully bring about a greater good for the community and the Church, rather than just yourself.”

Powerful advocate

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Child Development Center are hiring staff to prepare for the opening. 

All personnel will have training and certifications required for compliance with the accreditation.

They’ll also have to meet the standards of every other diocesan school employee, including a background check and safe environment training.

Dr. Vader noted that if the Immaculate Heart of Mary Child Development Center is successful, “there may be other opportunities in the diocese for us to replicate this in the diocese.”

Mrs. Rockwell asked for prayers for success for the new center, for the people who will be working there, the children who will be attending, and their parents.

She believes the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a perfect model and intercessor for this ministry.

“As much as the Blessed Mother guides and influences us, she also helps the children,” she said.

For information about the Immaculate Heart of Mary Childhood Development Center, contact Dr. Vader at or 573-635-9127.