Departing Catholic educators reflect on their vocations

The Visitor asked educators with more than 30 years of service in the St. Cloud Diocese and who were retiring this spring to share aspects of their vocations.

Three teachers and a principal answered our email questions.

After 45 years at the same school — St. Boniface in Cold Spring — first-grade teacher Carol Sell put away “Tumble Bumble,” the last book she read to her last class.

In reflecting on her years in the classroom, Sell said she felt “blessed to have been a teacher at St. Boniface School, blessed to work with such an amazing staff and supportive parents and beautiful children.”

First grade students listen as their teacher Carol Sell reads them a story for the last time in her 45 year career teaching at St. Boniface School in Cold Spring. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor)

To teach, she drew inspiration from a quote by St. Teresa of Calcutta: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

And when classroom problems arose, Sell said, “I simply tried to love each child for who they are.”

Not only did she teach students — they taught her as well. “I have learned the amazing power of faith from several school families who have experienced the serious illness of their child and the death of their child,” she wrote. “Their faith and hope in God has truly inspired me.”

To incoming teachers, Sell suggested “cherishing the beauty of each child — their giggles, their smiles and their pure joy. Pray for each of your students each night.”

A member of St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring, Sell simply looks forward to slowing down the pace of life and has nothing unique planned for retirement.

Delight in the little things

Joy is a special gift Jacqueline Walz brought to her 44 years in education, 33 of them as principal at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Richmond.

“I especially enjoyed finding the positive every day in the students that I taught or the teachers I mentored,” she said, “and encouraging students to be creative.”

Jackie Walz

As principal, Walz inspired the teachers to actively involve students in learning. Sts. Peter and Paul School adopted the Project Lead the Way curriculum focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Because of those efforts, the school sent three robotic teams to the Vex IQ Robotics World Championships in California and Kentucky and created a design room for students to work with a 3-D printer and laser engraver.

Each morning, Walz started her day with a verse from Matthew 19:14: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,’” and a prayer: “Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle. Amen!”

She advised principals to get out of the office and enjoy the students. “One can easily get bogged down with paperwork, but it’s important to visit classrooms and experience all the exciting things happening each day.”

One lesson she learned was to celebrate life. “Nothing is more wonderful than to see the delight children experience in the little things in life,” she said. “They taught me to be present in the moment and not always worry about what needed to be done next.”

A parishioner at St. Joseph in Waite Park, Walz began her vocation in 1974, teaching for 11 years at St. Joseph Lab School in St. Joseph.
In July, she will travel to Sitka, Alaska, to visit with her former preschool teacher and her husband. In June 2019, she plans a trip to Austria with her sisters and a niece. In between times, she wrote, “I plan to curl up with some good books, visit with friends and complete a few craft projects.”

Learning a two-way street

St. Mary’s School in Breckenridge has said farewell to Linda Holecek, their eighth-grade teacher, who has been part of their school life for 41 years, including serving as a principal for eight years and coaching volleyball to junior and senior high students.

Linda Holecek

She began in 1977, teaching three years in Sedalia, Missouri, and in East Moline, Illinois.

A quote that guided Holecek is “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

“Hopefully the gifts that I brought to my classroom were knowledge, understanding, wisdom, courage and right judgment,” Holecek wrote. “I want students to challenge themselves to do better and anything is possible with their effort and God’s help.”

One problem she strived to change was for students to realize their value. “Students are so talented but sometimes are afraid to use and express those talents,” she said.

“We are always learning from students and their families,” Holecek continued. “Learning is a two-way street, both with teachers and students. We learn from each other. I’m amazed at how helpful and respectful students are with other adults, like at the nursing home and food drops.”

Holecek hopes that new teachers will incorporate humor and understanding with their teaching — “You must be ‘human’ for students to see you as a real person. The results are rewarding.”

A parishioner at St. Mary of the Presentation in Breckenridge, Holecek looks forward to traveling in the near future to Scotland, Ireland and Texas.

Try something new every day

Since 1984, Ginny Thomas has taught at Holy Family School in Sauk Centre; since 2001, she’s focused on technology skills for grades K-6.

About the fast-changing technology field, Thomas said, “I would turn on my computer lab light in the mornings and say a quick prayer: ‘God, help me learn something new today and help my students do the same.’

Ginny Thomas

“When they asked about something I didn’t know, I would challenge them to help us figure it out. Or I would say, ‘Let me do some dreaming and research it. I know we can figure it out,’ Thomas wrote. “I hope that attitude showed kids that we are lifelong learners. Teachers don’t have all the answers — we have to seek them too.”

Hired by Benedictine Sister Suzanne Slominski, Thomas began her career in 1974 as a classroom teacher at Holy Family for two years. As her family grew, she tried different positions, buildings and communities. In 1984, she returned to the classroom at Holy Family School — for a total of 36 years at the school.

“The students who most inspired me were those for whom it was hard to focus or use computers or who just couldn’t follow lots of directions,” Thomas said. “They kept trying, though it was hard, and saw their little successes as big accomplishments. That helped me focus on what is important.”

In retirement, Thomas, member of St. Paul Parish in Sauk Centre, will quilt, dig her flower and vegetable gardens and read for her book club.

“My husband Chris and I hope to visit our grandsons more,” she said. “Our oldest son and his wife live in Skagway, Alaska, and our youngest son is a musician — we want to go to his gigs.”

Thomas’ advice to teachers works for everybody: “Try something new every day. There’s always a better way, so look for it. Make it a challenge and interesting.”

Positive relationships

Lynn Grewing, who served as the principal of Cathedral High School since 2001, had a small sign above her desk that said “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was … so I was.”

Grewing said this quote reminded and inspired her to always believe that one’s perceptions and expectations about students guide and determine how they respond. She recalls that her students made her laugh every day. “A sense of humor makes every day a little brighter,” she said. “I also have learned about overcoming difficulties, perseverance, and achieving success through hard work.”

Lynn Grewing

A teacher since 1973, Grewing taught English in both Warner and Aberdeen, South Dakota, and was also a principal in Aberdeen before teaching for 13 years at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael in St. Cloud.

Reflecting on an educator’s role, she said, “I know that education for young people must be first based on solid positive relationships, and I have worked on relationships with students every day of my career. Before we can teach students, we need to know and care about them. I hope that I have helped to create a real community at Cathedral — one that is based on genuine concern and real enjoyment in spending time together.”

Her advice to new teachers — especially for middle and high school students — is that learning must be relevant and engaging. It’s important for students to understand why the lesson is valuable and how they will use it. Students will engage if they see the value in what they are doing.

In retirement, she and her husband, Red, members of St. Peter in St. Cloud, are looking forward to spending more time with their grandchildren. This will be the first summer that she has had off in more than 20 years and one thing she is looking forward to is working in their yard. “And, finally,” she added, “I am going to read more books!”

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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