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: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.