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What is Catholic identity

Ann DepperschmidtAt in-service gathering, diocesan Catholic school teachers examine

'What is Catholic identity?


Several years ago, Ann Depperschmidt, principal of Sacred Heart School in Ness City, was visited by then-Superintendent of Schools, Sister Rosemary Henrichs, who complimented her on the school’s strong Catholic identity.

Depperschmidt, who has served as Superintendent of Schools since Sister Rosemary resigned nearly eight years ago, admitted that, all those years ago, she really didn’t know to what Sister Rosemary was referring by "Catholic identity."

On Sept. 26, Depperschmidt hosted Catholic school teachers and principals from across the diocese at the annual in-service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City.

She told the teachers that she has since learned that Catholic identity comes less from the pictures of the saints on the walls than it does from the behavior of those within the school.

"Catholic identity has to do with how we treat each other – the students, visitors, parents, and staff. It’s how we interact with each other," Depperschmidt said.

"If you feel like you’re above the cook, the custodian, or the secretary, you really need to review that, because they run the place. If I’m having trouble with a student, sometimes I’ll walk around the school with the custodian and learn a great deal.

"Do you make sure your students are respectful of the staff? Are you teaching them that caring aspect?"

She told the teachers that if they "don’t know the names of your cooks, the custodians or the secretary, shame on you."

Catholic identity also is identified in the way children are disciplined. The days that once held stories of rulers and rapped knuckles – true, false or exaggerated -- are over.

"Every situation is different," Depperschmidt explained. But regardless of what the child has done, "When you’re really angry, it may not be the best time to discipline."

She explained that disciplining must be done respectfully. When once encountering a troublesome child on the playground, Depperschmidt said she bent to eye level and, without touching the child, poked her finger back and forth at him as she expressed her anger.

Later that day, Depperschmidt’s nephew, a kindergartner, told her that the other students knew the boy had been in a lot of trouble because they had all seen Depperschmidt looking like "Woody Woodpecker."

"Shame on me," Depperschmidt said. "It took a fifth grader to point it out. Think about what you’re doing – how it looks. I don’t remember what that child did, but I really remember what I did."

On another occasion, Depperschmidt said she was finally moved to read the riot act to a kindergartner, who, after Depperschmidt threatened the threat of all threats ("If it happens again, you’ll be sent to the principal’s office!!"), the child asked, "Mrs. D., what’s a principal?"

She stressed that it’s important that teachers always follow through with threats. "If you say, ‘one more time and you’re not going to recess,’ you really have to mean, ‘one more time.’"

Catholic identity can also be seen in how teachers respond to parents.

"Being respectful to parents is extremely important to that Catholic identity we’re looking for," Depperschmidt said. "You are working with people’s greatest asset. They love their children – their life, their blood."

Not that parents and teachers will always see eye to eye. Depperschmidt suggested that when dealing with an angry parent, sometimes "the best you can do is say, ‘I’m sorry.’ It doesn’t mean you’re wrong and they’re right; it may just mean that you’re sorry they’re upset."

Depperschmidt suggested teachers start with a compliment and then, rather than offering a laundry list of bad behavior or poor grades, list one way in which the child could improve. And, she added, "Always end on a positive note.

"Your students, fellow teachers, parents, and staff – they may not remember what you said or a thing you did, but I can tell you for sure that they will remember how you made them feel. I hope we make an effort to make each person we encounter in a Catholic school setting feel good and that they’re a child of God."

During the in-service, Bishop Gilmore greeted each teacher at a special commissioning celebration in the worship area of the cathedral. There, the bishop shared stories of some of the Sisters who had affected his life growing up in Pittsburg, Kan., including a young teacher named Sister Philip Ann, who had helped him after he became very ill.

"She was a very quiet person, very young," the bishop said. "It was probably her first teaching assignment. ... And I remember her particularly because that was the year I contracted a minor form of polio. She was very kind to me when I finally got out of the hospital, sending my lessons home."

Bishop Gilmore told the teachers that they were like "potters at the wheel."

"They will exasperate you often times; they will make you pull your hair out often times; they’ll make you wish you were working at MacDonalds -- it would be easier. But they’ll also warm your hearts. They also almost bowl you over with their affection, their freshness, and their animal vitality.

"…The Lord is saying give yourself without reserve to these young people. What you’ll find is exasperation, sure, but what you’ll find is that they give you life. Simple as that."

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