By KATIE BORKOWSKI
CARROLL – “It is time,” expressed John Steffes to the 2017 Kuemper Catholic High School graduates.
During the commencement on May 28, the president of Kuemper held up a gold pocket watch.
“Before there were cell phones in our pockets, before wrist watches were invented to track what time it was, people many years ago would carry one of these in their pockets,” he said. “It wasn’t very complicated with hundreds of apps. It had one simple app – to tell time.”
Steffes explained these watches usually had a chain, like the one in his hand. The owner would have to wind the watch once or twice a day, since batteries weren’t invented yet.
Father Kuemper’s watch
“This one is actually Father (Joseph) Kuemper’s gold pocket watch. It has a fancy ‘K’ imprinted on it,” said the president. “The namesake of our school comes from the hard-working priest who immigrated to America from Germany and was ordained a priest in 1880. He left an incredible legacy here as he founded St. Anthony Hospital, three area parishes and of course, St. Angela Academy, the all-girls high school and predecessor to our high school today.”
Steffes pointed out Father Joseph Kuemper had few possessions when he died in 1923. The pocket watch had been in a bank safe deposit box. Back when he taught history in the ‘90s, Steffes read about the watch in a local history book and became curious about it, so he sought it out.
“Last year we began a new tradition of remembering Father Kuemper and connecting his legacy in a special way to our newest graduates,” he said. “Right before our new graduates receive their diploma, they will one-by-one hold Father Kuemper’s watch reflecting on the time of that pioneer priest.”
While the students held the watch, they were asked to think back to when Father Kuemper held it and checked the time during his busy days of work.
“Reflect on Father Kuemper’s time and legacy on earth and think about your time and your legacy that remains in front of you,” suggested Steffes. “What will your imprint be? Your imprint to make a difference with your time. It begins today. Make the most of your time, in service to others, as Father Kuemper’s time on earth was.”
His added request was for the students to think about their future as a “Kuemper graduate and be proud that you are one of the newest members of the Kuemper Alumni Family.”
During the renovation at Kuemper High School, a display case was installed in the new shrine near the front entry to showcase Father Kuemper’s pocket watch. A large portrait of Father Kuemper hangs above the display case with his signature engraved on the name plate.
“We will get it out for graduation,” said Steffes. “I get it out for eighth grade orientation, too. We sit in the chapel and talk about his watch. The fifth or sixth graders get the watch out for Iowa history and pass it around. It does come out occasionally.”
In his first year as president of Kuemper Catholic Schools last year, Steffes thought a couple special traditions were in order. Those traditions have continued into this year.
“It is important to remember we are a special Catholic school,” said Steffes. “We need to keep reminding the kids of their special Catholic heritage.”
Along with holding Father Kuemper’s pocket watch at graduation, the seniors also took a trip down memory lane and went back to where their education at Kuemper began.
Following the baccalaureate Mass at Holy Spirit Church, the seniors walked across the playground to the Holy Spirit Center. They were greeted by fourth and fifth graders who gave them high-fives and cheered for them.
When they entered the building, the halls were lined with current kindergarten through third graders and teachers.
“They see their old teachers and their kindergarten classroom,” said Steffes. “It is a good reflection for the kids and the teachers. They are really touched by it. That was the most impactful thing for the seniors.”