The following letter was submitted by Kristin M. Stang, director of fine arts at St. James the Greater School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She is also a musical theater performance instructor/private vocal coach in Oklahoma City.
As Catholic Schools Week draws near, the need to write this gets stronger each day.
Today, I write in gratitude to Catholic schoolteachers. However, I am grateful for them every day. Every day of my life has been changed because of them.
A wonderful school exists in Oklahoma City: St. James the Greater Catholic School. Within its walls walk 200 young souls. Much like the name of their school, they may just be destined for greatness. As it stands, their hearts have already become “the Greater” in my own life.
And, how does this school share anything with St. Cloud, Minnesota?
At St. James the Greater, I am blessed to be a music, drama and speech teacher, and I serve as the children’s choir director. Like my sweet students, I also grew up in Catholic schools. While the experiences of my students are in Oklahoma, my own experiences were in the Diocese of St. Cloud. I attended St. Mary, Help of Christians School from kindergarten through sixth grade and Cathedral High School for seventh through 12th grade.
Today, I thank the teachers who encouraged, who pushed, who were not only teachers, but cheerleaders, counselors, mentors and the people I’ve learned the most from in this world.
In attending both schools, I experienced the gifts of community, family and teachers who went above and beyond to enhance the learning experience for their students.
I was not a perfect student. Math and science were forever “struggle subjects.” One math teacher, however, consistently showed patience and refused to allow struggle to define me. Her name is Mrs. Pat Salay.
She was my pre-algebra teacher at Cathedral, and she sacrificed her own time, sitting with me until it stuck. She’d explain, re-explain and take a new approach if needed, simply because she knew the struggle. Despite it, she wanted me to know success.
This same approach is one I use when working with my own students. But beyond teaching, her approach steers the ship of life now: Try, try again, and take a new approach if needed. The struggle may be there, but if you are persistent, the success will be as well.
How does one express gratitude for a gift so pivotal in one’s life?
There was Father Chris Trussell, whose guidance and gift of theater was exactly the passion of my heart. He’d grow the confidence, offer the challenge and encourage me to rise to it. From Cathedral and Father Chris, I came to appreciate the gift of the performing arts. This gift led to me attending school in New York City for musical theater, to teaching music and drama, and continuing to perform in Oklahoma City. Such gifts have led to my life’s work. It is, and always will be, one of my greatest joys.
Benedictine Sister Clare Witzman gave me the gift and passion for writing. Beyond writing, she offered a love of literature and reading.
Mrs. Tina Scheierl offered the gift of geography and sparked a passion for travel. She would become a mentor in life, in geography, and a patient teacher knowing she was serving a student whose entire heart was wrapped in the arts. In doing so, she’d ask regularly about performances or my latest endeavors. To be gifted with a teacher who cares is everything.
But, because she cared, it sparked my curiosity to better understand geography, a subject she cared for.
How does anyone express gratitude to the teachers who genuinely care, who take time, and to the ones who are creative? To those who reach students in ways they’ll remember always?
To each Catholic schoolteacher who has crossed my path, ready to selflessly give far more than the curriculum provided, you are irreplaceable in this journey. There are more beyond those named, and there is no level of gratitude large enough. You’ve changed life forever, and for the better. I pray each of my students is receiving as much as you gave to me.
And, to all of you teaching in Catholic schools, sharing your time and gifts, may you know the impression you are leaving. May you know how valuable you are in shaping the life of another person.
To my parents, above anything, I thank you for the sacrifices. Thank you for choosing Catholic schools. In doing so, you gave more than I could hope to repay.
How cool is your school?
Did you or does someone you know attend Catholic school in the St. Cloud Diocese? How has Catholic education had a positive impact in your life? Does the Catholic school in your area do something really unique to help students understand and celebrate their Catholic faith?
If so, we want to hear about it! In 100 words or less, tell us how Catholic schools in the diocese have made or are making a difference. Anyone submitting an entry will be entered in a drawing for a copy of the book “Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World.” The winner will be announced in mid-February.
Entries may be submitted online to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Editor, The Visitor, P.O. Box 1068, St. Cloud, MN 56302. Be sure to include your name, phone number, parish and school name. Selected answers will be featured online, on social media and/or in print.