Once students, now staff members

Alums feel ‘at home’ working in former schools

Moira Cullings

When Katie Weaver started teaching third grade at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, one of the strangest adjustments she had to make was her interactions with fellow staff members.

“The craziest part was being able to look at them and to have to use their first name,” she said. “They’re like, ‘You don’t have to say “Mrs.” anymore. You can just call me by my first name.’ It took me the first month to be like, ‘Are you sure?’”

Weaver’s hesitation stems from her history with the school — she attended it as a student from kindergarten through eighth grade and finds herself working alongside a few teachers who were there when she was a kid.

“Some of them are still here now as I’m teaching, and they were fantastic growing up,” she said. “They supported us through everything with our faith, with whatever was going on at home. They were a great lifeline here at school.”

Katie Weaver is a former student of and teacher at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. (Photos provided)

Now, Weaver is the provider of that support — and she does so in the very classroom she was taught in as a child.

“On the first day of school, I put up a photo of me in this classroom,” she said. “It looks just like me but I’m in a uniform. [The students] thought it was funny.”

Weaver isn’t the only faculty member working at her former school. The archdiocese has several alums who were drawn back to their alma mater for one reason or another, including Kate Kelly, Assistant Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy.

Kelly’s ties to the school go back decades, as she and her mom both attended St. Rose, and now she has two children of her own in the school.

“We’ve pretty much grown up here,” she said.

Kelly recalls times during the 1990s when the school was almost closed down but the community’s perseverance kept it going.

“The principal at the time fought to keep it open and did everything she could,” said Kelly. “I think having that example of community and that we don’t give up has helped to shape who I am as an educator today.”

Kelly hadn’t originally planned on teaching at St. Rose, or even a Catholic school for that matter. She decided to spread her wings after college and move to Las Vegas, where she taught at a public school for one year.

But she felt the school lacked something very important.

“I think having the experience of being in public school reminded me not only why I’m Catholic, but why I want to instill that in all of my own children and my students,” she said.

Kate Kelly is the Assistant Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy. (Photos provided)

Kate Kelly in first grade at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy.

“Being in a community that cares about you and knowing that there’s a God that loves you and is here for you and wants what’s best for you is something that you can’t speak about in public schools. It’s part of the reason I’ve chosen to stay in Catholic education, because you can’t get that anywhere else.”

The time was right for Kelly to move back to Colorado, and with a few openings at St. Rose, she decided to go for it. This August, she will enter her 13th year working at the school.

With new additions and modern curriculum, St. Rose feels much different to Kelly — minus the uniforms and the “community feeling” surrounding the school. But she still finds herself having flashbacks to her time as a student.

“I find myself saying ‘Back in the day’ a lot,” she said with a laugh.

For Thomas McCarty, Assistant Athletic Director at Bishop Machebeuf High School, being back on his old stomping grounds feels natural.

“I really enjoyed my four years here,” he said. “It was great, the relationships I built that are life-lasting.

“There’s a lot of good memories that come back.”

Thomas McCarty is the Assistant Athletic Director at and former student of Bishop Machebeuf High School. (Photo provided)

McCarty is set to graduate from college this summer but was able to work at Bishop Machebeuf part time beginning last March and full time as of October. He’s grateful for the opportunity to help kids live out their passion for sports.

“I had the time of my life playing high school sports,” he said. “So if I could fulfill that passion again and be a part of it, that’s how I got into [this role].”

Having only graduated from the school a few years ago, role working with kids close to his age feels even more special.

“I think the kids like it because they have somebody young and fun to be around,” he said. “It’s fun to hang out with them and help them fulfill their dreams.”

Joe Harvey, P.E. Teacher at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, has deep ties to his place of work — his grandparents attended church at the parish, the gym is named after his late father, Jim, and Harvey’s mom and sister teach at the school, too.

At one point, five Harveys taught at Blessed Sacrament at the same time.

“For a lot of people, I think they see their grade school and want to get away from it,” said Harvey. “I just had such good experiences here and love the community so much that it was a no-brainer to come back here and be a part of the community again.”

Harvey is flooded with fond memories when he recalls his time as a grade school student.

Joe Harvey is a P.E. Teacher at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. (Photos provided)

“Being in a Catholic setting and small class sizes, you make really good friends and you get a really good moral base,” he said. “It’s just a tight-knit community.”

Like Kelly, Harvey initially had other plans for his life — he wanted to attend law school after completing college in Boston — but eventually felt pulled in another direction.

“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do,” he said. “I got into subbing at Blessed Sacrament and then fell in love with teaching.”

Working with kids seemed like the perfect fit.

“Their enthusiasm just rubs off on you,” he said. “It turned into something that I really wanted to do.”

Now, walking around the place where he grew up feels like home.

“I’ll pop into a fifth-grade room or a fourth-grade room, and I remember doing a biography project here or there,” he said. “It’s funny to go back in these classrooms and remember projects you did with certain teachers. It’s surreal and pretty cool to bring it full circle.”

And Harvey can’t help but laugh when his students realize he was once in their shoes.

“I think they’re kind of shocked by it,” he said. “I think they think I’m a lot older than I actually am.”

But just like his fellow alums working at their alma mater, Harvey is grateful to carry on a legacy at the school he has always loved.

“I wake up every day excited to go to work and be a part of this community,” he said.

COMING UP: The priesthood is more than just a job

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In October, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will be held at the Vatican. On the agenda: a discussion on the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in that region, due to a particularly dire lack of vocations. The news has reawakened discussion on priestly celibacy in general, and whether the time has come to relax the requirement on a wider level. And so, I figured it was time to revisit the subject here, as well.

To set the tone, I’d like to begin my discussion with a very short quiz:

Q: Why does the Roman Catholic Church require lifelong celibacy for ordained priests?

  1. Because sex is bad, dirty and evil, and our priests should not defile themselves;
  2. Because we don’t want to have to support priests’ families out of collection funds;
  3. None of the above; or
  4. Both of the above.

The correct answer would be C, none of the above.

So why, then? Why on earth would these men have to give up the possibility of marriage and children, just because they want to serve God as priests?

Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Church, not a doctrine. It could change. The rule has already been relaxed in relation to married Episcopalian priests who convert to Catholicism. In this era of widespread priest shortages, and even wider-spread scandals, should we consider expanding that exemption, and remove the requirement of priestly celibacy entirely? Wouldn’t a married priesthood encourage more men, and perhaps healthier men, to respond to the call of God?

Perhaps. But at what cost?

Discussions about the elimination of priestly celibacy are not new. They’ve been around as long as priestly celibacy itself. One of the periods of particularly spirited discussion on the subject was in the late 1960’s. In response, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. In it, he explained the reasons for the Church’s long history of priestly celibacy, and he enumerated three “significances,” or reasons, for the tradition:

Christological: The priesthood isn’t just a job. It is a state of being. It encompasses his entire existence. It places a mark on his soul — a mark that will follow him into eternity. The priest is ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by another bishop, in an unbroken chain that goes clear back to the apostles. And through that sacramental ordination, and the power and grace it conveys, the priest stands in persona Christi —  in the person of Christ. He has the power to consecrate the Eucharist — to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can forgive sins.  And so, standing in the person of Christ, the priest seeks to be like him in all things. He imitates Christ’s life, which includes Christ’s celibacy.

But, you say, Christ also had a beard. Does the priest have to imitate that, too? How far do we have to take this whole imitation thing? Well, the question we must ask is: What was integral to Christ’s ministry? Was celibacy integral? What would it look like if Christ had married and had children? He would have had to work to support them. He would have had to provide them a home.  No iterate preaching, moving from town to town. Jesus was not going to be an absentee husband and father. It was the freedom of celibacy that allowed him to give himself totally to the service of the Father and the Father’s children. So yes, I’d say it was integral. The beard, not so much.

Ecclesiological:  This basically means it is about the Church. Our understanding of a priest is not that he’s a single guy, a bachelor. He, like Christ, is in fact “married” to the Church. You’ve heard all that talk about how the Church is the “bride of Christ.” We really believe that. And the priest, standing in persona Christi, likewise becomes the Bridegroom, giving his life for the Church, and especially for the part of the Church he serves. He doesn’t just offer his “workday” to us, the flock.  He offers his life. He serves us as a husband serves his wife. (And we the faithful, as good “wives”, should likewise be going out of our way to love and care for our priests.)  His attention and affections are not divided between his bride, the Church, and an earthly bride and family. He has far greater freedom than a married man — freedom to not only serve his flock, but to pray and meditate and to grow closer to the Christ whom he represents on this earth. Which then prepares him for further service to the flock.

Eschatological: This means it’s about the next life. Remember my last column, about the Poor Clare Sisters who make the radical choice to live this life as if were already eternal life, focusing only on Christ? Well, priests participate in that too. Scripture says that, in Heaven, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Mt 22:30) Priests and consecrated religious foreshadow that here, reminding us that everything that happens in this life is just a prelude to the life to come.

And so, for all of these reasons, I oppose the wholesale elimination of the requirement of priestly celibacy. I realize that we already have exceptions. I know several of those “exceptions,” and I think they are wonderful people and wonderful priests. But I think they would acknowledge the difference between the exception and the rule, and that the loss of priestly celibacy would change our understanding of the character and charism of the priesthood. The priesthood would be increasingly perceived as just another career choice — one to be entered and left at will.

And whatever the priesthood may be, it is definitely not just another job.

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash