By KATIE LEFEBVRE
When five principals and one president in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Sioux City are graduates of the same school, it says something about that school – Spalding Catholic High School.
Even though the high school is no longer, the legacy still lives on in these administrators.
The first of the administrators to graduate from Spalding was Father Kevin Richter, president of Gehlen Catholic School in Le Mars, in 1979 and the most recent graduate was Leah Murphy, principal at St. Patrick School in Sheldon, in 2004.
After Spalding, Father Richter received education at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. (BA, social science), Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium (MA in theology) and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. (MA in spirituality).
Before becoming president at Gehlen Catholic in 2004, Father Richter served at Kuemper High School in Carroll (1988-1992), Spalding High School (1992-1994), Remsen St. Mary (1994-1996), and on the board at Bishop Heelan Catholic School (1998-2004).
“I had been thinking about priesthood since second grade, but Spalding provided the environment that continued to strengthen that sense of being called,” said the priest.
Current Spalding principal, Maureen Berg, graduated from the high school in 1981. This is her first year as principal and she is enjoying being back.
Berg received her bachelor’s degree at Creighton University in Omaha and her certification in elementary education at Chadron State College. Her teaching career started in Avon, Mont., and she went on to teach in Kalispell, Mont., and at Omaha Public Schools.
“It is fun coming back as a leader because you can really impact the school in ways you couldn’t as a student,” she said. “For years, I felt my values system was not in line with the mission of the schools I worked for. I always did a great job, but I always felt there was something missing. When this position opened, I did a lot of thinking and praying. It was just the right thing for myself and my family.”
Appreciate Catholic education
Mary Fischer, principal at Mater Dei School in Sioux City, graduated from Spalding in 1983 and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree at Briar Cliff and her master’s at USD.
This is her seventh year as principal at Mater Dei. Prior to that she taught fourth grade at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Canby, Minn., and for 15 years she taught in third and fifth grade at Sacred Heart School in Sioux City. At Mater Dei, she taught middle school social studies for two years and was assistant principal for two years before being named principal.
“Catholic education was important to my parents,” said Fischer. “My seven siblings and I all attended St. Joseph Grade School and Spalding High School. It only seemed natural to teach in a Catholic school. It is where I feel at home. The benefits of Catholic education are too great to not be a part of it. I am privileged to be a part of the legacy of Catholic education and am thankful that my parents realized the benefits.”
In both elementary school and high school, she said she had “amazing teachers all throughout my education in Granville.”
“I was especially inspired by the Franciscan Sisters who taught me,” said Fischer. “Their dedication to Catholic education is an inspiration that has encouraged me throughout my career. I cannot imagine working in any other environment than in a Catholic school.”
Jeff Alesch, 7-12 principal at Gehlen Catholic, graduated from Spalding Catholic in 1990.
Following graduation, he received his bachelor of arts degree at Benedictine College and his master’s at Drake University.
Before becoming principal at Gehlen, Alesch taught at Remsen St. Mary’s for five years and at MOC/FV for five years. He has been in his current position for 10 years.
“Father Richter gave me the opportunity to work at Gehlen Catholic,” he said. “I have always appreciated how everybody is involved in the Catholic schools.”
Alesch added that having six administrators from Spalding “is pretty special. It says a lot about Spalding Catholic.”
Feeling at home
Kristie Hough, principal at Seton Grade School in Algona, was a 1993 graduate of Spalding before attending Loras College. Although she is in her first year as principal, she has only taught in Bishop Garrigan Schools.
“I am in my 18th year with Bishop Garrigan Schools and enjoy being part of a great system,” said Hough. “I feel at home in a Catholic school. I like being able to bring faith and education together.”
She has been part of Catholic education for about 34 years. Hough said her faith and education has been “the foundation upon which I could build my personal and professional life.”
After graduating from Spalding, Leah Murphy received her bachelor’s in elementary education at Iowa State University and her master’s in educational leadership at Doane College in Crete, Neb.
Before becoming principal at Sheldon, she taught in Omaha, Neb., for three years and at Spalding for two years. When she returned to Spalding, after several years away, she gave the speech for graduation.
“I said walking into the doors I remembered so many years of tradition and family that had gone through those doors,” said Murphy. “I wanted to bring that same feeling to where I worked. There is a feeling you get when walking into a Catholic school. It is home. It is loving. It is a place where you are free to be who you are. I found it hard holding back that part of my life.”
All Spalding graduates
Each of the Spalding graduates had similar reactions to the number of their fellow alumni who are in leadership roles at diocesan Catholic schools.
Father Richter said, “It tells me that I graduated from a school that fosters leadership skills!”
“It speaks to the heart of what we are doing at Catholic schools in the diocese,” said Murphy. “People want to spread God’s love, be in a loving environment and enhance the lives of those around them. We got those values from our families at home and our family at our school.”
Hough said, “It speaks volumes to the dedication of the faculty and staff in providing such a faith-based foundation throughout its existence. Also, Spalding Catholic Rocks!”
“It is great that such a small high school would be having such long lasting effects on the educational practices throughout the diocese,” said Fischer.
In a way, Berg said, she wasn’t surprised because “there is a culture in this area of working hard. When we went through Spalding, it was an academically strong place. We were determined and hard working. We go in and do our job and do it well.”