A heartfelt
message
from a
proud
St. John's
alumnus

 

 

Sister Navya's fourth grade students work on their computer assignments.

By Jack Siebenaler

   I've been a member of this parish for 53 years. I attended first and second grades at St. Mary's in New Trier and, when the first St. John's school building was completed in 1959, I and the rest of my family transferred to St. John's. The building was brand spanking new and I met my third and fourth grade teacher, Bertha Loesch, for the first time. Most parishioners knew her as Bert. She was quick and witty and was responsible for giving my generation here in Vermillion a good handle on the multiplication and division tables. And of course you remember her encouragement during those drills. She had a hardy laugh that could be heard a block away. And when she yelled, it easily carried two blocks. We all loved her, and we came to appreciate her more as we entered our adult life.

   My fifth and sixth grade teacher was Sister Mary Roger. She was young and ambitious, but the thing I remember most about her was that she could sing like an angel. Sister was responsible for the music program and played the organ at daily Mass as her choir proudly sang along. She introduced us to French and Latin and was responsible for training the Mass servers. They were all boys back then.


Jack Siebenaler, on the left, and some members of his family.


   We had an older sister at the convent who did the cooking for the rest of the nuns by the name of Sister Nurena. (Of course that name would not stand so she was dubbed Sister Nutrena in honor of all of us farm boys.) Her job was to cook and clean the convent and then come over to keep an eye on the whole school assembly while the rest of the nuns and Bert Loesch left to have their dinner. You can imagine the possibilities of chaos breaking out at a moment's notice. But she seemed to have a sixth sense about that. She would pop in the classroom so fast you hardly had a chance to misbehave.

   Sister Geradine was our seventh and eighth grade teacher. She had one thing in common with former President Ronald Regan. Yup, you guessed it. "Sister Jelly Bean," we called her. She was the principal and I think she could hold two boxes of crumpled up Kleenexes in those sleeves of hers. Her specialty was to require us each week to read a chapter in our science, history and geography books and then outline each chapter. For two years, we read and outlined, read and outlined. It seemed like we were getting nowhere. But as an adult, I now realize Sister Geradine's wisdom. My job at Flint Hills Refining is to plan and organize turnarounds and write operating procedures. I'm currently working on the refinery expansion project. Each of these jobs requires documents that need to be very precise and stepped out in an orderly fashion. Organizing is very easy for me because of the training I received at St John's through Sister Geradine's guidance. I feel blessed to have had her as my all-time most valuable teacher. My family and I live a good life because of these skills that keep me employed in a good job today.

   What does the good life mean? It means something different for each of us, of course, but it would be meaningless to me if I would have come out of an elementary school without a firm faith in God and a loving heart. At each grade level -- first through eighth grade -- I attended class in a setting where God was a major part of the day. Eight years. The seed was planted back then and, with the help of my parish community today, I can continue to grow.

   I recently sat on the sofa with my daughter Brandy and my grandson Ben. We were watching Saturday morning cartoons, something I hadn't done for many years. The cartoon characters were talking about "Happy Houska." I listened for quite some time and then I had to ask, "What are they talking about? What is Happy Houska?" Being a mother of a three-year-old and a one- year-old and a skilled cartoon watcher, Brandy informed me that Happy Houska was the term used for Happy Easter. The TV stations were not allowed to use the real names for Christian holidays, she told me. The only Christian holiday name she could recall in the recent history of cartooning was Valentine's Day -- and that's probably because TV executives don't know about St. Valentine. Brandy's husband Tom is the middle school band director in Lake City. He wore a tie with a Christian Christmas scene on it one day and was told to take it off for fear of offending someone. Teachers at Lake City are instructed to wish their students "Happy Holidays" rather than Merry Christmas for fear of offending someone. You all know the stories. You all have stories of your own -- stories that appall you.

   Folks, we've got a real crisis on our hands. It's not just the Pope's crisis. It's not just the Catholic Church's crisis. It's not just Father Joe's crisis. It's our crisis. Us. Parents. Grandparents. Even great-grandparents. Right here, right now. What chance will our children and grandchildren have to learn about God, to study and live by Christ's teachings, to witness on a daily basis good Christian values? You can be assured, it will not come from your TV set. It will not come from your public school. It will come from your church community and the lessons you are encouraged to teach at home.

   Dr. James Dobson, a clinical psychologist, is known for speaking on behalf of the American family. He compares passing the Gospel of Jesus Christ from one generation to the next to a relay race. In a relay race, a runner is carrying the baton around the track. It's pretty unlikely that the runner is going to drop that baton on the back side of the track, but when he's ready to hand it off to his teammate, the chances of dropping it are greatest. So is the case when we pass the Gospel of Jesus Christ from one generation to the next. The older generation has got a good hold on it. It's in the transferring of Christ's message that holds the greatest chance of dropping the message. St. John's School plays a big part in transferring this message.

   St John's has a long tradition of providing a Catholic education to both elementary children attending our school, and for providing religious education classes for those who do not attend St John's. We offer religious education classes for middle school and high school students as well. We offer Bible Study groups, prayer groups, social events -- the list goes on. Our first school building was dedicated in 1959 and has served our parish community well for all those years. When I walk through its halls, I can't help but think of the sacrifices that were made to build it. The quality of construction and the ability to serve the needs of our children for nearly 50 years can be credited to people who had the strength and vision to give beyond what was needed at the time. They gave so that future generations could reap the benefits of a Catholic education.

   Education has changed in the past 49 years just like everything else. Businesses that did not embrace change in just the past 15 years are struggling to survive or no longer are in business. Businesses that are out there trying new things, stepping out of the norm, pushing the envelope are the survivors. We're in the business of passing on our faith, our beliefs to our children. We've been doing it through our Catholic school for 49 years and I truly believe that we want to continue God's work for the next 49 years and beyond.

  Thankfully, many parishioners agree with me. Thanks to their vision and generosity, the parish in the fall of 2005 opened the doors to a new addition to our school. It's a well-designed, well-built structure that will enable the parish to continue its mission of passing the Gospel of Christ to future generations of eager students.

   But this isn't the time to sit back and relax. The parish school debt still totals about $83,000. Our personal financial pockets are of varying depths. Some are deep, some shallow, some getting deeper and some going in the opposite direction. Whatever your financial situation, however deep your pockets, please consider reaching to the bottom of that pocket and make an additional contribution to finally complete the parish's bold vision.

   Thank you.

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