Shown with those honored, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presided at a special Mass at the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center on May 16 for school staff retiring at the end of school year. (Photo by Kathleen McGillis Drayna)

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki makes the case that Catholic school teachers are some of the most important influencers around.

As a former seminary teacher, Archbishop Listecki told teachers, families and friends gathered for the Archdiocese School Retirement Celebration on May 16 that he regularly sees 14 of his own past students.

One of this group of former students — all now bishops themselves who gather as part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — will sometimes say to him, “I remember when you said in class …”

Archbishop Listecki’s response? “I’ll look up to heaven and say, ‘I don’t remember what I said in that class,’ yet it was obviously something that made an impact, something that helped to form and to shape them.”

The archbishop said Catholic school staff members influence children in the most important way: by bringing them closer to Jesus, he said. Teachers take up one of Jesus’ three ministries, with the others being sanctifying and healing.

The goal of teaching is to lead students to the truth, he said.

Archbishop Listecki referenced the Mass’s Gospel that focused on Jesus’ plan to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after he leaves the world.

“The teacher helps the student to speak and to speak to truth, and in so doing, that truth helps to shape their lives,” he said.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is in crisis as he and another disciple are beaten and imprisoned, but God used that crisis to convert their jailer.

Archbishop Listecki encouraged the retirees to reflect on crisis moments during their careers.

Like Paul, they were committed to something greater than themselves.

“Sometimes, those moments in crisis produce a tremendous benefit — sometimes for the student and sometimes for the entire community. You were there to be able to help form and to shape and to say you were committed to something larger, something greater, and as that person of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Thank you for your dedication and commitment to the truth and to the excellence in your classrooms, and thank you, thank you, for allowing yourselves to be the models for others to follow, committed to that sense of Catholic spirit in your lives,” Archbishop Listecki concluded.

Following Mass, the teachers and their guests enjoyed visiting at a light reception.

Some retiring staff who joined the celebration spent their whole careers in Catholic schools, while others took Catholic school positions after working elsewhere.

“I really enjoyed sharing my faith at a Catholic school,” said Maureen Anhalt, who taught at Holy Angels School in West Bend for 23 years. “That’s what I enjoyed the most.”

A parish member, Anhalt is the mother of two Catholic school alumni as well. She taught math, religion and language arts to sixth, seventh and eighth graders over the years, and said she will enjoy remaining connected to the community by returning to teach as a substitute.

Joseph Griesbach, a math teacher at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, followed the footsteps of six older brothers when he came to MUHS as a freshman in fall 1971.

Except for his college years and several years teaching at Xavier High School in Appleton, Griesbach has been at MUHS ever since.

“Marquette was such a good place to be,” Griesbach said. He enjoyed the students and families as well as working in a very collaborative department. In retirement, he and his wife plan to purchase a camper and do some traveling.

Mary Beth Szymborski taught sixth and seventh grade English and reading at St. Francis Borgia in Cedarburg for the past 13 years.

“It was a very good place to be and a very hard place to leave. It really feels like a family,” Symborski said. “I had to tell three different classes I was retiring. They all started crying. That really said something to me.”

It was no surprise to learn that students insisted Szymborski would have to return to the school as a substitute teacher.

About 200 job openings at Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can be found here: .