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“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant,” Jesus said to those who would lead in His place (Matthew 20:26).
The new and returning administrators of the Jefferson City diocese’s 37 Catholic schools and three Catholic high schools take that to heart as they prepare for a new school year.
Eight are taking up new administrative roles in the diocese.
Here is what some of them have to say:
“A faithful fixation”
One of Lucinda Varner’s most influential mentors worked in education for more than 45 years.
She also happens to be Mrs. Varner’s mother, Lucille Limbach.
“My mom taught me to encourage, love and support those who I care about,” said Mrs. Varner, the new principal of Our Lady of the Snows School in Mary’s Home.
“As I began my career in education, I was able to apply this advice to my students,” she continued. “Later in my career, I was able to apply this same advice to students, families and staff members.”
Mrs. Varner brings 30 years of her own experience in education to her new role.
She has taught preschool through fifth grade and has served as an instructional coach, an assistant principal and a principal.
Mrs. Varner and her husband were married over 30 years ago in Our Lady of Snows Church and have two adult daughters.
She said meeting the unique needs of the school’s staff, students and community will define her daily priorities.
“On a more comprehensive level, we will continue to strengthen and build our preschool program as well as review curriculum and instructional needs,” she said.
She is excited to be returning to her hometown.
“My grandparents, parents and siblings were all baptized, confirmed and married in the parish,” she said.
Although Mrs. Varner’s father died when she was a child, her mother made sure that all of her children were raised in a family and community centered on strong Catholic faith and values.
They all went to Our Lady of the Snows School.
“It is a huge honor to be able to return home and serve a community that has played such an instrumental role in my life,” she said.
She plans to lead with a servant’s heart.
“I have a vision for the school and a passion for education,” she said. “I am looking forward to serving the students, their families, the staff and our community in the realm of Catholic education.”
Mrs. Varner believes the purpose of a Catholic education is to intertwine academics and faith.
“This education is important in that it helps develop the spirit and mind of our children,” she said. “Students are taught how to apply their faith to authentic situations with guidance from trusted adults.”
If a Catholic school does its job well, she stated, “our students will be well prepared academically and spiritually for their future. Our students will connect to a greater purpose and go through life with an open heart despite the adversity that they will ultimately face.”
She said Mary’s Home is a small town with a huge heart, where the community infuses faith and values with ministry and the love of children.
“I am both thankful and humbled to serve the school, the parish and the community,” she said. “I know firsthand the immense responsibility that comes with this leadership role. I am also fortunate to know firsthand the tremendous support that the parish and community has for the school.”
Mrs. Varner enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as cooking and doing crafts.
This summer, she is reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
“It’s a book about family and faith,” she said. “I also enjoy books about leadership and education.”
Her favorite Bible verse is “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,” (Romans 12:12).
The Guardian Angel Prayer and the Serenity Prayer are her favorite prayers. She often prays for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel in times of need and support.
She said the ongoing support and prayers from the community are essential for the success of Our Lady of the Snows School.
“To achieve our goals, it will take hard work, dedication and a faithful fixation on the support of our schools,” she stated. “The prayers and support will help prepare our students for a lifelong journey to address our deficits and celebrate our success.”
“Positive Catholic environment”
Richard K. “Dick” Davis is uniquely familiar with the challenges and opportunities before him as the new principal of Fr. McCartan Memorial School in Marceline.
He’s back this year after serving as principal from 2010-15.
He believes his purpose as a Catholic school administrator is to provide a loving, nurturing Catholic environment that positively affects an ever-growing faith.
“A Catholic education is so important as it helps develop each child’s relationship with Jesus,” he said. “It also provides the opportunity to learn how to love one another and utilize the Golden Rule.”
Mr. Davis said that when Fr. McCartan Memorial School is successful in its mission, “we see our graduates excel in future educational endeavors — become successful students and positive workers — but most importantly, be contributing members of their local Catholic Church.”
Likewise, if a graduate’s vocation is marriage, “they bring up their children in the Catholic Church,” he said.
He noted that an important point of concern is the steadily declining enrollment the school has experienced over the past several years.
“We need to provide such a positive Catholic environment that parents will be encouraged to send — or continue sending — their children to our school,” he said.
Mr. Davis and his wife Theresa have been married for 38 years. They have two adult children and three grandchildren.
He enjoys spending time with his wife, traveling, exercising, reading and “all sports.”
His favorite hymn is “The Prayer of St. Francis,” which includes the phrase: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, in giving that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
“Rely more on God”
Having become thoroughly rooted at St. George School in Linn, Lisa Grellner is eager to forge new bonds at St. Mary School in Frankenstein.
Specifically, she will continue as principal in Linn while taking on additional responsibilities as principal of St. Mary School in Frankenstein.
The schools are located eight miles apart.
Mrs. Grellner grew up feeling drawn to Catholic education, but there was no Catholic school available to her at that time.
After graduating from college, she accepted a fourth-grade teaching position at St. George School, followed by a year teaching second grade and 17 years teaching third.
She met her husband, Kevin, a St. George alumnus, in Linn. They have four children, who have also graduated from the school.
Several people encouraged her to apply for the principal position at St. George when it became available. She turned it down twice. The third time, her husband said it was God calling and she wasn’t listening.
She applied for and accepted the position in 2014.
She recalled how Sister Kathleen Wegman of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, former chancellor of the diocese and a longtime educator, encouraged new principals to begin their day by praying, “Jesus, be with me today. There is nothing I can’t accomplish with You at my side,” and to end the day with, “Thank You, Lord, for Your support today.”
Mrs. Grellner said a Catholic school administrator’s main purpose is to keep Christ present in their own life and in the lives of the students.
“We are also charged with making sure our faith-based students are held to a higher academic standards, so that they can be Catholic leaders in a non-Catholic world,” she said.
Catholic school administrators are called to wear many hats throughout the day.
“However,” she stated, “the primary focus is that of ensuring the Catholic faith is being handed down to the youth of the parish. We are called to bring forth the mission of the school and parish.”
She noted that parents are the primary educators of their children.
“We are here to partner with the parents to help prepare children for the sacraments and to help them to be lifelong learners of the Catholic faith,” she said.
She believes that all of this is important because students need to see their faith alive and in action, day-in and day-out.
“In times where we are seeing more people struggling with daily pressures, we need to teach our students to rely more on God,” she said. “Students need to be in environments where prayer is taught, and encouraged on a daily basis. Catholic education is a place students can live out their faith.”
She noted that Catholic schools are the starting point for stewardship renewal in the diocese.
She believes that in an ideal world, more Catholic school graduates would attend Mass regularly on the weekends.
“Across the country, we are seeing a decline in church attendance,” she said. “We all need to be in a strong relationship with God. That would be the best description of a Catholic school graduate.”
Mrs. Grellner enjoys spending time with her family and reading fiction books.
She often seeks the intercession of St. Joseph and St. Teresa of Kolkata.
One of her favorite spiritual reflections is St. Teresa’s “Anyway” poem, which includes: “Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”
She requested prayers for the students and teachers to have a successful year.
“I also ask for prayers for Catholic schools across the nation for safety and continued success as we are faced with so many challenges throughout the school year,” she stated.
She said people can help God answer those prayers by continuing to be present at school and by embracing the stewardship way of life and putting it into practice.
“Continue to grow”
One of Abby Martin’s favorite prayers is the Serenity Prayer.
“Not only is it a prayer that helps calm me and re-focus, but a few years ago, my grandma made me a cross that has the prayer on it,” said Mrs. Martin, the new principal of Ss. Peter and Paul School in Boonville.
She brings to the position 13 years of experience in education, including seven years in Catholic schools and seven in administration.
Among her previous administrative roles were principal at St. Andrew School in Tipton and Sacred Heart School in Sedalia.
Mrs. Martin grew up in Boonville and was received into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Ss. Peter & Paul Parish.
She and her husband, Kyle, were married in Ss. Peter & Paul Church.
Mrs. Martin believes that her role as a Catholic school administrator is to support the faculty and staff, students and parents in growing in their own faith and “to ensure we are working together to build disciples.”
That, she stated, is the school’s primary purpose.
“I believe that Catholic schools are able to educate the whole child, not just academically, but in the Catholic faith,” she said. “Additionally, through the cooperation with their families, we are able to make a bigger impact.”
She said Catholic education is important because it helps build a strong foundation.
“We are able to immerse ourselves in the faith and truly live it on a daily basis — not just for the students, but for our Catholic educators and families, as well,” she said.
She is convinced that when a Catholic school does its job well, its graduates do better academically and spiritually by staying grounded in their faith and carrying-out the virtues.
“Additionally, I would hope that our students and graduates would continue to be active parishioners and stay connected to our parish and school,” she said.
She enjoys spending free time with her friends and family.
This summer, she has been reading Tony Tales by Father Tony Ricard, who was the keynote speaker at the 2022 National Catholic Education Association convention in New Orleans.
She anticipates the inevitable challenges that come with beginning a new role and learning, adapting and adjusting to a new role.
“However, through those challenges, we will continue to grow,” she said.
She is grateful for the guidance and support she has received from fellow principals and from Dr. Erin Vader, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.
She asks for prayers for Ss. Peter and Paul School, parish and community: “That we are able to continue to grow and educate our students in the faith and create long lasting disciples.”
People can help God answer that prayer by getting involved and helping to maintain strong unity between the parish and school, she said.
“Even if you do not have any direct or current ties to the school, help us continue it as a ministry of the parish,” she stated.
“Live in Christ’s likeness”
For Amy Schebaum, serving God at St. George School in Hermann is very personal.
“I attended St. George from first through eighth grade,” said Mrs. Schebaum, the school’s new principal. “I prepared for and received my First Holy Communion and Confirmation at St. George.”
She conducted her student teaching at St. George School with Karen Mazzocchio, who was the first-grade teacher at the time.
“Shortly after that, I married a fellow St. George classmate at St. George Church,” she said. “And now our son, Lane, walks the halls at St. George School as a fourth-generation ‘Dragon.’”
This will be Mrs. Schebaum’s 15th year in education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, a master’s in education administration and an educational specialist in educational leadership (K-12).
She has taught kindergarten, first and second grades as well as Title I reading. She also has experience working with middle school students.
“I am excited to be able to give back to a school that has given to my family for so long!” she said.
She believes the purpose of a Catholic school is to help its students foster their faith and love of Christ, while growing physically and academically.
“We want our students to see our school and parish as one community working together to live in the likeness of Christ,” she said. “If we’ve done this well, the students that fill the seats of our school will one day be the parishioners filling the pews of our church with their own families.
“And the next generation of ‘Dragons’ will be filling the seats of our school!” she said.
She enjoys spending free time with family and friends, camping and reading.
One of her favorite prayers is the Serenity Prayer.
“I think it’s the perfect prayer to take on the day,” she said. “It fits all families, careers and challenges that arise in the different stages of our lives.”