Like mother, like daughter.
Like grandmother, like granddaughter.
When Jessica Breen saw a classified ad posting for a K5 teacher at St. Matthew School in Oak Creek, she knew she hadfound her dream job. It was where she learned to read and write, sing, and kick a ball, and it was where her faith was nourished; the fond memories flourish in her mind today. Her mother, Susan Breen, thought the job was a good idea, after all she teaches there too; as did Susan’s mother, Catherine Christenson.
Christenson began her teacher career at the former St. Mary School, South Milwaukee, When there was an opening at St. Matthew, she jumped at the chance to teach there, as it was her home parish.
“I attended St. Patrick in Eau Claire for high school and sent four of my nine children to St. Matthew: Pat, Joanie, Sue and Bob,” she said. “My older children attended a Catholic grade school in Eau Claire. When we moved to Oak Creek, St. Matthew Elementary School was just opening so some of my children were already beyond the grades that they offered.”
She taught fifth-eighth grade math, reading and English from 1976 through 1987 and remembers that all of the principals back then were religious.
“On average, there were about three nuns in the building during the years that I taught,” she said. “I loved teaching there because we had camaraderie with the faculty, the great parents and students, who were fun to be with.”
Catholic education is important to Christenson because she believes in teaching children about faith when they are young and giving them an understanding of the Mass.
“Also, the teaching of good values, love of fellow students and respect for everyone is important,” she said.
Sue attended St. Matthew School from first through sixth grade, and she remembers nuns living in the convent attached to the school.
“My favorite teacher was Sr. Monica Marie in second grade,” she said. “Her kindness and loving nature inspired me. The morals and values taught at St. Matthew helped guide me through high school, college and adulthood. I knew I wanted my children to have the same spiritual upbringing as I had at home and at school.”
All four of Sue’s children, Josh, Jeremy, Jessica and Jonathan, attended St. Matthew through eighth grade. In 1997, she became physical education teacher for grades K4-8 while earning her teacher certification. From 2002-2007, she taught middle school at St. Charles Borromeo and returned to St. Matthew in 2007, teaching second grade for eight years.
“In my ninth year at St. Matthew, I began as the eighth-grade homeroom teacher, where I teach sixth-seventh-eighth grade social studies and religion, grade six religion and grade eight literature,” she explained. “I love my job. Everyone at St. Matthew — the students, faculty, staff and parents — are united in the goal of providing a loving and caring atmosphere where the outcome is students who are respectful, thoughtful, hard-working members of the community. It is through this collaboration that makes my job so enjoyable.”
In the years since she attended, there have been many changes, from the diverse student body, to major technological advances.
“From chalkboards to SmartBoards, from notebooks to computers, technology drives a lot of what we do,” she said, adding, “Middle school students are very aware of technology updates and use them regularly in reports and presentations throughout the school year.”
Attending St. Matthew from K5 through eighth grade gave Jessica an appreciation of Catholic education.
“Every day that I entered school, I felt a warm welcome from my teachers, classmates and helpers in the building,” she said. “From kindergarten to eighth grade, every teacher I had made me feel unique and loved for who I was. A Catholic education embeds a faith in God that remains eminent throughout all of life’s challenges. To me, a Catholic education at St. Matthew was more than what meets the eye; the teachers took it one step further to find, embrace and challenge the uniqueness of each student.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point in May 2014, Jessica was excited her first teaching job would be under the same roof that her mother and grandmother taught.
“I am in heaven working at St. Matthew,” she explained. “Ever since first grade, it has been my dream to work here. St. Matthew provides the homiest atmosphere; and the staff, students and families make me feel appreciated and loved. I look forward to coming to work every day and so do my students. The faculty, parents and students encourage me to embrace my talents and use them to help shape the minds of my students. I genuinely feel loved.”
While she and her mother could choose to teach in the better paying public school districts with greater benefits, they said their calling to teach in a Catholic school exceeds the desire for greater compensation.
“Just as irreplaceable as a Catholic education is for the students, it is also an irreplaceable place to be the educator,” Jessica said. “The students have a genuine love for learning and being here because they see the same commitment from their parents, teachers and others in the building. Coming to work every day with a smile on my face and an excitement to teach is more important to me than money. Genuinely loving my job is priceless.”
While technological advances are the most startling, Jessica said the same warm feeling she experienced as a student is present today.
“There have been new teachers in all the grades that I have attended here except seventh grade; Mrs. (Nancy) McDonald is still here,” she said. “There wasn’t a 4K program when I was here, so that being established has come a long way. When I was here, we had the old hall across the parking lot to go to for gym, dances and class parties. It was old, but definitely fun for gym. The church layout was a lot different. We were able to go back for seconds and thirds for lunch too. The fourth grade also takes a field trip to the Capitol building each year, and that wasn’t established until I was in middle school.”
More than three generations before Jessica, the love of Catholic education was imbued in her family. It is an important facet of her life, the lives of her mother and grandmother, and important to the students she teaches daily.
“Faith is something that needs to be taught, understood and lived through at a young age,” she said. “It is hard to embed an understanding of values and morals at a public school because not everyone in your class or building shares the same outlook on faith and life. At a Catholic school, you choose to surround yourself with families who share and help embrace the power of a strong faith in Jesus. At a Catholic school, you learn and understand that the Golden Rule is the key to life.”