New assignment makes summer ‘a little unique’

Kathryn Ziesig | kathrynziesig@archstl.org
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On one hand, "summer vacation" was typical for Father Ed Nemeth. Like every other Catholic school administrator in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, he wrapped up the past school year, then went right into preparations for the next.

But this wasn't just a typical summer for Father Nemeth, who was ordained in 2008. Far from it. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson gave him a new assignment, and Father Nemeth attacked it with gusto, closing the books on his previous assignment as president of St. Pius X in Festus and opening a new chapter in the same post at Valle Catholic High School in Ste. Genevieve.

Father Nemeth also added his first pastorship, at Ste. Genevieve Parish; he had been in residence at Sacred Heart in Crystal City. Former Ste. Genevieve pastor Msgr. Dennis Stehly received a new assignment as vicar general/moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

As parish pastor and school president, Father Nemeth stands alone in the dual roles among archdiocesan priests and educators. Whereas about a dozen archdiocesan parishes ran high schools in the past, only two such parish high schools exist today. Valle Catholic is one; the other is Perryville's St. Vincent de Paul High School of its namesake parish, which is operated by the Vincentians.

Father Nemeth managed to squeeze in a one-week vacation at the end of July, but otherwise, he kept busy in an offseason he called, "a little unique." Essentially, Father Nemeth jammed two summers of work into one summer.

"I left one school and rushed to do all the things I needed to do to leave them in good shape to function July 1 without me," said Father Nemeth, who had been at the Festus school since ordination — initially as a chaplain and teacher. He also filled roles in faith formation and advancement before becoming president. He ended nine years of service at St. Pius on June 28 and started the next Monday at Valle Catholic and Ste. Genevieve Parish.

"I was walking into a lot of questions waiting for answers, learning a lot of policy and procedures ... and trying to figure out what key opens what door," he said, with a laugh. "I feel this tremendous time crunch; the school year is looming and I had only half the summer to do what I usually take a whole summer to do (to get ready for the new school year). It's been two very compressed summer experiences."

The typical summer isn't nearly as compressed, though it's busy for administrators such as Father Nemeth.

"I'm used to the summer school flow," he said. "When you end the school year, there is that little sense of, 'OK, I can take the deep exhale' because your immediate day-to-day responsibilities have slowed, but then a whole other level of things gear up."

There's advancement, fund-raising, financial aid and other business to finalize by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. In addition, there's maintenance deferred from the previous school year, plus cleaning, painting and general sprucing up to get the buildings ready before students arrival in August. St. Pius also upgraded its chemistry labs this summer, thanks to a grant from the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri.

"You only have a few months in the summer to do the majority of the maintenance work for everything to be nice and shiny for the next year," he explained.

This summer Father Nemeth also is wearing the pastor hat, which in his case is a straw hat worn with a black cassock. There's no mistaking Ste. Genevieve's new pastor when he walks around town. People wave, honk or stop to chit-chat. That's if he has time to walk around, though; his schedule has been filled with meetings most of the time.

"Sometimes, all of a sudden, the day's gone; I don't know if I accomplished anything," he said, with a laugh. "A pastor's purview is not just the school, but other operations here — our school, our banquet center, buildings we own in town, interactions with community, the parish picnic. ... Each day things pop up that aren't part of your daily life in the academic world."

But one thing's for certain: The parish community has helped him make the transition.

"When you come into a new place, there might be anxiety: What's the new guy going to change?" he said. "But I've found the people here very welcoming and excited." 

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