St. James principal retires after 44 years at the school

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

In a few weeks, Karen Battaglia's famous school bell will fall silent when she retires from St. James the Greater.

But on May 14, St. James was far from silent as students cheered and pounded the cafeteria tables at a surprise party honoring their principal.

"Everything Miss Battaglia has done in her 44 years here has all been for you," Father Chris Dunlap, parochial administrator of the parish, told the students. "She has sacrificed; she has shown you what it means to love."

Father Dunlap credited Battaglia with "leading us through good times and tough times," stating that her pre-kindergarten program helped keep the school afloat several years ago.

Battaglia also has helped implement many programs at the school, including Spanish, Chinese, chess and robotics, among others. But her legacy extends far beyond the programs she has begun.

"She's just a bedrock of the parish here, a bedrock of the school, so dedicated to us," Father Dunlap said.

Battaglia has inspired other educators, such as first-grade teacher Mary Clarkson. Battaglia's advice has guided Clarkson through her career: "Make every day special. You don't know what these kids have experienced before they get to your class."

Battaglia's influence hasn't been lost on St. James' students either.

"Every day at lunch, she sits across from us, and she always talks to us," seventh-grader Anna Rios said. "She always keeps us always happy."

Anna is among the many students Battaglia has welcomed to school every day by ringing the school bell. Father Dunlap rang the bell at the surprise party, to which the students chorused, as always, "Good morning, Miss Battaglia and Father Dunlap!"

The students gave Battaglia the bell at the party, along with a framed picture of the school and gifts from each class.

"I won't be here to ring the bell, but my heart is always here," Battaglia told the students as she thanked them. "No matter where I am, it's always at St. James."

Battaglia's Catholic faith has carried her in 44 years as an educator, all of which have been at St. James. She's been principal for the past 19 years.

"I came when I was like 21, and to me it's a mission ... to spread the Catholic faith and really be in Catholic education," Battaglia said. "I have students that I've taught their parents, grandparents, and I've seen what Catholic education has done. I've been very blessed. God has been good to me in everything that has happened."

Battaglia will retire in Florida, where, she said, "for a few months I'll do nothing."

"I'll miss the parish, and I'll miss the community, and I'll miss the children and the teachers. I'll miss it greatly," she said.

The parish and the students will miss Battaglia as well, but, as fifth-grader Aiden Lanemann reminded Battaglia in a reading from Jeremiah: "'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

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