Letter to the editor: 50 years later, St. Pat’s principal remembers

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The 1974 teaching staff at St. Patrick Catholic School included, from left, eighth grade teacher Tim Shehan, seventh grade teacher Cindy Rossman, Title I teacher Jackie Landon, second and third grade teacher Diana Shehan, sixth and seventh grade teacher Cathy O’Malley, Principal Steve Swanson, who also taught sixth grade social studies and second and third grade reading, kindergarten and third grade teacher Denise Showalter, the Rev. James McIlhon, first grade teacher Pat Hogan and fourth grade teacher Carole O’Hare.

To the editor:

As parents, teachers and educators are getting ready for the 2023-2024 school year, I would like to share a little history about Perry’s St. Patrick Catholic School and acknowledge the importance of what took place there 50 years ago in 1973.

As the Sisters of Saint Francis would no longer be continuing their involvement at the school, as a result of retirement, other ministries and the like, a decision had to be made whether or not to continue the school without the Sisters.

Fr. Maurice Schulte, the Parrish Council, School Board President Bob Kautzky and board members decided to continue with an all-lay faculty. As Mr. Kautzky said at the time, “There was never much thought of closing the school.” That decision has positively affected the lives of so many in the continuation of Christian education!

As a result, in August 1973 a new chapter in the history of St. Patrick School began. I was fortunate to have been hired as a teaching principal with great dedicated and talented teachers — albeit few in numbers. I believe our faculty included Patricia Hogan, Diana (Andrews) Shehan, Carole O’Hare, Sara Keegan, Cindy Rossman and Tim Shehan.

We multi-tasked, teaching multiple subjects, and implemented a program called Individually Guided Education, addressing the students’ needs at their level, encouraging, challenging, and guiding in a Christian environment.

We had a valuable support staff, including our volunteer secretary Marguerite Janning, our great cooks Rita Smithson and Vi Sheets and our young and enthusiastic custodian Pat Welby. Fr. Schulte was so instrumental in that first year, helping, encouraging and always supporting, as was the school board!

In making this transition as the first all-lay-faculty Catholic school in the Des Moines Diocese, it would not have worked so seamlessly without the support and dedication of the parents in this process. They were invaluable, volunteering at the school, helping paint classrooms, getting rid of bats in the gym (another story) and fundraising, including the Fall Festival, when the students enjoyed watching the teachers get dropped in the dunk tank and playing in an alumni/faculty basketball game with the KIOA High Hoopers!

The 1974-1975 continued the growth, with the addition of a kindergarten class of 18 students under the guidance of Denise (Showalter) Kealhofer. Our K-8 enrollment peaked at 150 students. The state law changed to allow non-public students to ride the public school buses, of whom we had 15 riding the first school day! Another change that year allowed us to participate in the Federal Title I Remedial Reading and Math Program, taught by Jackie Landon.

The next year was my last as a St. Patrick Knight, and I went on to complete a 40-year career in education. I have been so thankful for my experiences with the school, church, and community in Perry during those three short years, and I want to congratulate everyone for keeping St. Patrick School alive and well these past 50 years. I know that the next 50 will be even better. Keep up the great work and the commitment!

Steve Swanson
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Steve Swanson was the principal at St. Patrick Catholic School in Perry from 1973-1976. He and his wife, Connie, live near Kansas City, Missouri.

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