Three educators are marking four decades of service in Catholic schools of the Denver Archdiocese: Mary Ellen Bley, Kathy Shadel and Karen Tinius. Profiles of them follow.
During her 40-year teaching career, Mary Ellen Bley always tries to look at the bright side.
“When there are lots of difficult things to do,” said the Most Precious Blood School teacher, “I try to look at the positive.”
She instructs her third-grade class on having a positive outlook.
“One of the things we (reflected on) the other day is that every day is a new opportunity,” Bley said. “We talked about what that meant. Some students came up with good ideas.”
Serving in Catholic schools her entire career has given the 64-year-old Colorado native a place to find community and integrate her faith with teaching.
Bley’s own education began at St. John the Baptist School in Longmont and Longmont High School. She graduated from Chadron State College in Nebraska and the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education.
She returned to St. John the Baptist to teach for the first time. She worked her way to assistant principal and interim principal of the Longmont school before leading St. Louis School in Louisville as principal for 12 years.
Bley taught the third grade again at Assumption School before moving to Most Precious Blood School to teach third grade.
Catholic schools are the place Bley said she’s been able to share her faith.
“When something is wrong you can always go back to being able to have a strong sense that you are going to do this because God is right there with you, that you’re not alone,” she said. “In public school it’s difficult to say to some student who is having a hard time, ‘Let’s just stop and say a prayer.’”
Bley has also found community at the schools, especially through her friendship with colleague Karen Tinius of St. John the Baptist School, who is also celebrating her 40th anniversary.
“We started teaching in Nebraska, not far from each other, before we came to Longmont and started teaching for the Archdiocese of Denver,” Bley said.
As is their tradition, the pair will celebrate their anniversary with a special night out or trip.
“I thank all of the teachers I have worked side-by-side with over the years, as they helped me perfect my skills. … (They) allowed me to grow and learn as an educator,” she said.
Nativity of Our Lord School principal Kathy Shadel has spent 40 years at the school, but each day is never the same.
“Working at the school is truly an experience every day; no two days are ever alike, and that’s one of the reasons that I have been at Nativity School for 40 years,” said 61-year-old Shadel. “I have met and worked with hundreds of wonderful people: teachers and staff, children, parents and pastors. Each person that we meet in life changes the way that we are, and, hopefully, I have changed many people’s lives for the better.”
Shadel has worked to make a difference in student’s lives by making the Broomfield grade school a place that fosters the whole person. Children always need a place where they feel “respected, safe, and are given opportunities to be themselves and to grow, as we say at Nativity in our mission statement, spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally,” Shadel said.
Christ’s example is the foundation on which educators foster that growth, she said, and hold students to high expectations.
“It is so important that all children receive a quality education and can become productive, kind, responsible, positive and caring members of society,” she said.
Shadel, an Iowa native, graduated from Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder along with her siblings. She later graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education. She was first hired as a teacher in 1974 at Nativity School as a second-grade teacher. She taught second-grade and fifth-grade for 18 years, part of the time as a principal designee. In 1997, she became the assistant principal, a role she served in for 10 years before becoming the principal.
“She has been at Nativity every single day of her 40 years,” said assistant principal Johanna O’Connell. “I think she feels a special bond to all the students here. She’s so happy to see alumni bring their children back.”
Karen Tinius, a 40-year veteran of Catholic schools, knew she would miss teaching second-graders after 16 years with that age group when she switched to kindergarten. But a colleague said something she’s never forgotten: “You’re going to love the ‘lightbulb effect.’”
She has continued to enjoy those lightbulb moments—”I can read! I can count!”—for 24 years, teaching kindergarten at St. John the Baptist School in Longmont.
“I just love what I do,” she said. “They’re just the sweetest things on earth, and I love helping these children bloom and grow.”
Tinius, who attended Catholic school while growing up in Lincoln, Neb., knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. She also considered religious life, discerning a vocation for a year at Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D.
“I was a poor student in school,” she said, “getting C’s and D’s … (I thought) maybe if I learned to teach it, it will become part of me.”
She graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1971 with a bachelor of science in elementary education.
“When I got into the part of my education that included working with the children,” she said, “that was my lightbulb moment.”
After teaching first grade in Genoa, Neb., she moved to Colorado in 1974. She went to St. John the Baptist Church for Mass and told the pastor she was looking for a job: he referred her to the principal, who hired her to teach second grade.
“I loved teaching about the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist,” she said.
This year, Tinius will also celebrate 40 years of marriage to her husband Mark. The couple has two grown children, both alumni of St. John’s, and one grandchild.
“I’m grateful to my husband and children for their support,” she said, “and all my family.”
Tinius, who turns 65 in April, will retire at the end of the school year.
“I’ll miss being nose-to-nose with those little ones every day,” she said. “It’s bittersweet.”
She also expressed gratitude to the archdiocese, parish, parents, staff and all her former students and their families.