Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s August prayer intention for the Jefferson City diocese is: “As we begin this school year, may we all recognize our shared mission to hand on our Catholic faith to the next generation.”
The new and returning administrators of the Jefferson City diocese’s 37 Catholic schools and three Catholic high schools are determined to help God answer that prayer.
Nine are taking up new administrative roles in the diocese.
Here is what some of them have to say.
“His light will shine”
José María González, the new assistant principal of Sacred Heart School in Sedalia, is convinced that education is one of the most critical tools for making the world a better place.
“I am delighted and excited to work in this community,” he said. “I am convinced that God put me here and that He has fantastic plans to help me and others be better and closer to Him.”
Sacred Heart is the only Catholic school in the diocese to include pre-kindergarten through high school.
It is located in a community with a significant Spanish-speaking and bilingual population.
Mr. González, a native of Chile, moved to the United States last November.
He holds the Chilean equivalent of bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering, philosophy and education, and a master’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in logistics.
He’s now completing a master’s degree in educational leadership.
He previously worked for about two years as a project engineer for a construction company. He then decided to pursue his true passion by working in a Catholic school in Santiago, Chile.
He taught math and physics and held some administrative responsibilities as head of the school’s Youth and Faith Formation Department.
He enrolled in an English-language program to prepare for his master’s studies.
There, he met the woman he would marry. They recently celebrated their wedding anniversary.
Mr. González emphasized that teachers are partners with parents in educating children.
“If they work with professionalism, passion and love, teachers can have a massive impact on their students and their families,” he said.
He emphasized that Catholic educators must never forget that students, their families, teachers, and everybody else are God’s children.
“That understanding should help us see that we are working with and for souls,” he said. “We must help these souls discover, understand, seek, find and love God.”
He said the mission of a Catholic school is the same mission that every Catholic person received from Christ: to go to the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.
“A Catholic school does this while providing quality education, helping parents in their role as a child’s first educators, and helping communities form excellent and responsible citizens,” he said.
He believes helping students become excellent mathematicians but failing to help them in their relationship with God would be a waste of everyone’s time.
He is convinced that Catholic education is an essential ministry of the Church.
“Families need support in the education of their children,” he said. “This education should include a professional and humanistic curriculum and a Catholic education that helps them be better individuals and closer to God.”
That proximity to God is a crucial ingredient of happiness and self-determination.
“It is also critical for being an apostle and live and spread God’s love,” Mr. González said.
He believes graduates of a thriving Catholic school should be able to relate to Salvation History with familiarity, should know Catholic doctrine in its principles and personal and collective application, should have a personal and intimate relationship with God that informs all his or her actions, and should be a reflection of Christ in all they do, and everywhere they go.
“If a Catholic school does its work well, it will successfully help parents transmit Catholic values, behaviors and ways to understand and face life,” he said. “These values will not be a cold and impersonal repetition of expected behaviors but a product of an inner and personal disposition due to the presence of God in their lives.”
Mr. González faces that challenge by putting Church teaching into practice and having a living relationship with God.
“I want God to be present in my words and actions so that I can be an apostle wherever I am and whatever I am working on,” he said.
“If I try to have God in myself, His light will shine and bear fruit,” he stated. “That applies to my family life, friendships and professional relationships.”
He enjoys spending time with his wife, mountain-biking, jogging, playing tennis, walking around the neighborhood, reading and listening to music.
He also likes spending time alone with God, especially in Adoration.
“He always has words of advice and comfort,” said Mr. González. “Talking with Him like this every day helps me keep my mind clear, my goals alive, my heart rejoicing, and my soul in shape.”
Mr. González asks for prayers to be a helpful instrument in God’s hands.
“Tools don’t always need to understand the whole picture to be effective,” he stated. “They need to let the operator do his or her job and stay faithful.”
“Stewards of the faith”
Deacon Michael Brooks, a retired principal, once told Melinda Osentoski to always look at a disagreement from the other person’s perspective.
“That has stuck with me and has definitely assisted me in my interactions with students, parents, and colleagues,” said Mrs. Osentoski, the new principal of Holy Cross School in Cuba.
“It reminds me that I need to be Jesus’s light for others,” she added.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, “Mrs. O” and her husband Darin have two children.
Mrs. Osentoski spent a lot of time camping and off-roading with her family in the desert while growing up.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in education.
She has been teaching in Catholic schools for 20 years.
When asked what she likes best about teaching at Holy Cross School, she said, “I really like that everything we do revolves around our Christian faith. The faith community we have within the school and the parish feels like family.”
She said the role of a Catholic school administrator is to guide teachers and students to grow in their faith and love for God through their example, encouraging faith-based activities, and assisting in faith development for their teachers and staff.
“The main reason for a Catholic school is evangelization,” she stated. “Every activity we do during the school day is imbued with our love for Jesus.”
She said Catholic education is an important way to grow the Church and help young people grow closer to God.
When schools do these things well, “students become stewards of their faith,” she said. “They participate in ministry and lead their lives in a Christian manner.”
Mrs. Osentoski enjoys reading and spending time with her family.
Her favorite Scripture verse is Philippians 4:13: “I have the strength for everything through Him Who empowers me.”
“This verse reminds me to give my joys, hopes, burdens and sorrows to God,” she said.
Her favorite saint is St. Bernadette, one of the visionaries at Lourdes.
Put God first
Kelsey M. Emmerich knows the value of putting God first.
“I believe a strong education is important, but secondary to God,” said Mrs. Emmerich, the new principal of St. Joseph School in Salisbury.
She grew up in Salisbury, went to St. Joseph School and now gets to be the principal.
“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to come back to my home parish and lead God’s youth through Catholic education,” she said.
She believes her main job as a Catholic school administrator is to help lead students and guide the faculty through the example of Christ’s love.
She said the purpose of a Catholic school is “to grow the hearts and minds of our students.”
She noted that COVID-19 has caused major disruption for schools in the past year and a half.
“An ongoing goal I have will be to close any educational gaps that have occurred due to COVID,” she said. “I know our faculty is extremely dedicated and they are up for any challenge this school year could bring.”
She and her husband Evan have two daughters and are active St. Joseph parishioners.
“I think it is extremely important to teach the students to be active and strong members of the parish,” she said. “In doing so we will continue to sustain our parish family.”
She said her principal mentor in the diocese has been a wellspring of good advice, the best being to remember to take time for herself and the people who are closest to her.
“I am extremely excited to work for and with people who encourage time for faith and family,” she said.
Mrs. Emmerich enjoys spending time with her family, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, working around her house, golfing, trying new recipes, reading or watching TV.
She recently read Lead Like a Pirate, by Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf; The Ten Minute In-Service, by Todd Whitaker; and What Great Principals Do Differently, by Todd Whitaker.
“These three books have helped me shift my mind from that of a classroom teacher to a building administrator,” she said.
In difficult moments, she turns her mind to Mary, mother of Jesus.
“If I feel overwhelmed, then I stop for a moment and think of the incredible sacrifice that Mary made to follow God’s will,” she said. “Her love and devotion for God helps to put things into perspective and brings a sense of peace and calm over me.”
Mrs. Emmerich asks for prayers for her and her colleagues at St. Joseph School to make decisions with confidence, peace, security, wisdom and strength.
She’s grateful to all of her fellow St. Joseph parishioners for supporting her in this new role.
“Please know that I will work hard to put the needs of my students and faculty ahead of all else,” she said. “I believe this will be a great school year!”