‘Backbone’ of Catholic education back in Imperial school

Sister Carol
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At one time, religious sisters formed the backbone of Catholic education in America, serving as teachers or administrators in Catholic schools.

But as sisters have dwindled in number over the past 30 to 40 years, spreading their communities thin, laity has assumed the mission of educating Catholic school students, some of whom might have never even seen a religious sister, let alone interacted with one on a daily basis.

Not so at St. Joseph Parish in Imperial, which has a convent in its parish boundaries, has had a religious sister in pastoral ministry for the past 11 years and soon will have another in the school principal's office.

The school has hired native St. Louisan Sister Carol Sansone, an Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus sister, as principal for the 2016-17 school year.

Sister Carol joins fellow ASCJ Sister Rosemary Buttice at the parish. Sister Rosemary is the head of religious education and formation. Sister Carol's hire is a homecoming for the Apostles, who ministered at the school as teachers or administrators from 1983 to 1992. The sisters also are a regular presence at Masses, running nearby Queen of the Apostle's Center.

"Who wouldn't want religious sisters in their school if they could have them?" asked Father Dan Shaughnessy, the parish pastor. "I wanted a greater identity for our students."

Father Shaughnessy praised Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and the Office of Catholic Education for their input over the past several weeks.

"We see this as a huge blessing not just for our parish but for the archdiocese," Father Shaughnessy said.

Sister Carol will join a little more than a dozen religious sisters or clergy in schools leadership in the archdiocese. The Apostles also run Cor Jesu Academy, with Sister Barbara Thomas as president and Sister Kathleen Mary Coonan as principal; St. Ambrose School, with Sr. Barbara Zipoli as principal; and Sacred Heart Villa pre-school on The Hill.

Religious sisters also are principals at four grade schools: Sister Mary Theresa Lawrence, SSND (Christ, Light of the Nations), Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ (Marian Middle School), Sister Maria Christi Greve, OP (St. Joseph Cottleville) and Sister Regina Marie Strassburger OSF (St. Agnes School). In addition, six among 10 archdiocesan high schools have clergy or religious sisters as presidents.

"Having sisters come back to a school where they have been, it's pretty exciting," said Father Shaughnessy, who called Sister Carol "a strong Christ-centered Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus whose academic formation and administrative accomplishments are unparalleled. Combined with her love of people, her tireless work ethic and her joy-filled love of life, you have an inspirational leader."

Sister Carol has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher or administrator, with two master's degrees — in education and American history from St. Louis University and Fordham. She also has led two schools to achieve the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence from the U.S. Department of Education. She currently is principal at Our Lady of Mercy School in Madison, Conn., and also has served schools in New York and locally at St. Catherine Laboure and St. Ambrose.

"Together, we will continue to grow as people of faith, hope and love in a world so desperate for these virtues," she stated. "Holiness and academic excellence (are) what we seek. This is what we have inherited and will ... leave as our legacy to our graduates and community." 

School leadership

Two high schools in archdiocese have added to their leadership teams. Regina Mooney has been hired as president of St. Joseph's Academy, while Patricia Mullen-Hellwig has been promoted to principal at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School.

Mooney has masters' degrees in sacred theology and divinity from Yale University and a doctorate of philosophy from Claremont University. She is currently the director of institutional advancement at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls middle and high school in Bellevue, Wash.

McMullen-Hellwig has a bachelor's degree in education from Mizzou and a master's in Catholic education leadership from St. Louis University. She has been at Kennedy for almost 20 years, as a social studies teacher from 1998 to 2006 and as associate principal for the past 10 years. She previously served at Rosary High School as a teacher and administrator. 

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