Educators mark 55 and 40 years in Catholic schools
By Denver Catholic Register
During Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 2, educators honored for most years of service in Archdiocese of Denver schools include Frank Sferra for 55 years; as well as three educators who have served 40 years: Maureen Kraus, Kathie Kuehl and Josephine Tscheschke.
Mullen High School, Denver
Frank Sferra has spent 55 years not just teaching kids to get to college but “to get to heaven.”
“People who teach in Catholic schools are so lucky,” he told the Denver Catholic Register from his office at Denver’s Mullen High School. “We live in a faith community … and there’s a dynamism that’s incredible. You can feel it.”
Sferra began teaching in 1957 at his alma mater, Regis High Jesuit High School. Then after teaching at Bishop Machebeuf High School 1958-1960, he started at Mullen in the fall of 1960. There he has primarily been a speech, debate and public speaking teacher; as well as a celebrated coach for 52 years.
Sferra refers to landing at Mullen as somewhat of an “accident” prompted by the grace of God. Following graduation from Regis College (now university), Sferra was working on his master’s degree in speech at the University of Colorado in Boulder, teaching at Machebeuf, and planning to take a job in Texas when he befriended Mullen’s librarian. “Mrs. Harrington” encouraged him to apply at Mullen as the school was starting a speech team.
Following his interview, Sferra was surprised to receive a job offer as the school was mostly staffed by Lasallian Christian Brothers, the order that founded it.
“I was the first lay teacher they’d hired in seven years,” he recalled. “We were ‘up to our ears’ in brothers then.”
Today there are three religious brothers at the school.
In 1960 when Sferra started at Mullen, the enrollment of the boys’ school (today it is coed) was 150 and 65 of those students were from area orphanages. This concern for the poor and the Lasallian approach to education drew Sferra in.
“I was impressed with the brothers because of their care and vigilance,” he said. “They really live that (charism).
“I thought I would stay two years and get some experience,” he said with a laugh.
Fifty-two years later, Sferra has mentored many national level competitors in speech and debate including three individual national champions and several national team awards. He has
served on the National Forensic League district committee since 1956; the NFL Council for 38 years, 10 as president; hosted the NFL tournament twice; and chaired the Colorado State Tournament 14 times.
He is a member of the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame, the NFL Hall of Fame and the National Federation of High School Activities Associations Hall of Fame. In 1985, he received the Pellham Award for Contribution to Forensic Education, in 1996 was named Colorado Teacher of the Year for the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1998 named Forensic Educator of the Year.
“It’s not a job,” he said. “It’s just ‘what I do.’ Every day is exciting.”
Shrine of St. Anne School, Arvada
Maureen Kraus believes “education should be a fun and unique experience for every child.”
Teaching elementary-level grades in Catholic schools for 40 years, Kraus is currently a first-grade teacher at Shrine of St. Anne School in Arvada. During her tenure, she has experienced the fact that teaching is not a job one leaves at the end of the day, but a true labor of love.
“Teaching is not just a 40-hour job,” she said. “But rather an unending job doing whatever it takes, so that each child will succeed.”
She feels it is her responsibility to help children grow not only academically, but personally and ethically as well.
“As a model to my students, I demonstrate the behaviors expected: respect, kindness, consideration and living the Gospel message,” she said.
In choosing to become a teacher following graduation from St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kan., with a bachelor’s of science degree in elementary education, she made a commitment to her students.
“Parents have entrusted these children to me and I care for them like my own,” she said. “It is my pleasure to be around the children who teach me new things daily. No two days are ever alike, and there is never a dull moment.”
Kraus taught fourth and fifth grades at St. Bernadette School for 13 years, before starting at St. Anne’s 27 years ago. There, she has taught fifth and third grades; and first grade for the last 16 years.
“What a joy teaching has been for me; and it keeps me on my toes and ever young!”
Shrine of St. Anne School, Arvada
During 40 years in Catholic education, Kathie Kuehl has appreciated the “real strength” she finds in the Catholic school system: a diversity blessed with unity.
“Here, and in all Catholic schools, we share a common bond of faith, good education and wanting what’s best for our children,” she said. “Our parents choose to be here because of the values and priorities they have for their kids: there’s a greater commonality than geography.”
Kuehl has served at Shrine of St. Anne School in Arvada for 36 years: five as a junior high social studies teacher and 31 as principal. Prior to that, she taught eighth grade at Holy Cross School in Thornton for four years until its closing in 1976.
She is grateful for the tight-knit community.
“The tradition of St. Anne’s runs deep,” she said of the buff brick school built in 1960 at 7320 Grant Place in Old Towne Arvada.
“Many of our parents were students here,” she said, “about 40.”
There are also two teachers on staff that are alumni.
“Over the years I have loved working with the parents, teachers and students,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to be with the kids.”
The school enrollment is currently 371.
“We have really caring teachers who look out for the individual students,” she said. “Not just academically, but for their faith development and social growth. … I have enjoyed watching the kids grow in their faith and knowledge and to actually watch them ‘grow up’ and find careers and start families.
“I’ve been here long enough to see that.”
Notre Dame School, Denver
Every school year is a fresh start that kindergarten teacher Josephine Tscheschke of Notre Dame School greatly anticipates.
“I’m not burned out because every year is different,” she said. “It’s a challenge but it’s also the satisfaction of meeting that challenge and watching them grow.”
The Nebraska native came to Colorado to teach in the late 1960s. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Neb., she taught at Presentation School in Denver until 1971 followed by Annunciation School and St. Vincent de Paul School from 1972 to 1978. Once she joined Notre Dame in 1983, Tscheschke began teaching kindergarten.
“There are goals to be met, but they’re so enthusiastic at this age,” she said about why she enjoys teaching kindergarten. “The fact that you can teach about Jesus and that he loves them—I really enjoy that.”
Her philosophy is to accept each student’s unique capabilities and respond with creative, hands-on activities that make learning fun.
“I also try to instill in my young students the knowledge that Jesus loves them and that we are to fill our hearts with love for Jesus and to respect and love each other,” she added.
Tscheschke said she believes she was called to be a teacher.
“I’m so blessed by God that I was called,” she said. “Even today at church that’s what I thanked God for. I’m so glad I’m a teacher and part of these kids’ lives.”
Martha Rittenburg, eighth-grade teacher at St. John the Baptist School in Longmont, was one of 12 teachers selected in the country to receive the National Catholic Education Association Distinguished Teacher Award from the Department of Elementary Schools of the NCEA. She was chosen from a potential pool of more than 100,000 teachers based on the following criteria: at least 10 years’ experience in a Catholic school; highly regarded by peers, students and parents; and for maintaining “a clear, integrated philosophy of Catholic education.” Rittenberg, who has been teaching at the school since 1976, will be honored at a ceremony and banquet at the annual NCEA Convention April 2. “Mrs. Rittenberg’s dedication to Catholic education is evident to us all every day. We are honored that she has continued to invest her life’s calling of educating children here at SJBCS,” said principal Julie Rossi.
On Dec. 18, following the Dec. 14 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the student council at St. Pius X School in Aurora organized a fundraiser for victims. The school community raised more than $1,400 to support those affected by the tragedy, through student donations that allowed them to take a break from uniforms for a day, and wear jeans to school.
Theodore Brown, a 1958 graduate of St. John the Baptist School in Longmont, was recently honored with the Distinguished Graduate Award. Brown, a longtime architect, was selected as “One of the Top 100 Architects in the World” by Architectural Digest, and he has had more than 40 architectural and interior design projects published in national magazines. Brown credits his education at St. John’s for making him curious about learning, giving him the discipline to study and drive him to succeed in higher education. He attended Longmont High School, received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Colorado, and a degree in skyscraper design from Harvard University.
Two alumni, Erika Donnelly and Alyssa Romani, are currently coaching the third-grade girls’ Widget basketball team at St. Vincent de Paul School in Denver. “The school’s unwavering commitment to its outstanding alumni program has attracted and encouraged such passionate individuals to give back to the school by sharing their time, expertise and dedication to its sports programs,” according to the statement provided by the school. Both coaches are graduates of Gonzaga University.