Sister Karl Mary Winkelmann isn’t certain exactly where God is calling her after retiring as president of Trinity Catholic High School this year.
But one thing’s for sure: “I couldn’t sit around all day eating bonbons,” she declared.
Likewise, retiring Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School principal Michael Blackshear is looking forward to the next chapter in his life. For now, summer plans include heading south for some fishing.
Combined, the two have served in education for a total of 93 years — 37 for Blackshear, who started as a teacher at the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Baden; and 54 for Sister Karl Mary, who as a School Sister of Notre Dame first taught English, religion and Latin at the former Rosary High School. Both have influenced thousands of students in academic and faith formation.
The attention and accolades that come with such lengths of service make both of them uncomfortable. But given the chance to talk about the importance of Catholic education, the words come easy for Sister Karl Mary and Blackshear, who spent time together in their last week of school reflecting on just that.
At Cardinal Ritter Prep, Blackshear said he hopes graduates leave “with a genuine sense of self-respect and preparedness when they’re faced with life’s challenges. We hope they have learned to make appropriate decisions, with respect for themselves. It’s good to have book sense, but you can’t make it without making responsible decisions. Whether you talk about our mission or whether you talk about Trinity’s mission, we both have been able to maintain that sense of Catholic identity.”
Sister Karl Mary added to that, noting that “we continue to stress to them that you can do whatever you set in your mind, with God at your back and with a sense of hope.”
Welcoming and caring community
After professing vows as a School Sister of Notre Dame in 1962, Sister Karl Mary went to Notre Dame College in St. Louis, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in Latin, in 1964. That fall, she began teaching English, Latin and religion at Rosary High in Spanish Lake. It was the beginning of what would be decades of service in Catholic education in North St. Louis County.
In 1970, after earning a master’s degree in administration from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Sister Karl Mary became the principal of Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Ill. After serving eight years there, she returned to Rosary High School as principal.
Sister Karl Mary led Rosary for 18 years until her appointment as archdiocesan associate superintendent of Catholic education in 1996, a post she held for four years. She then returned to Rosary.
In 2003, she helped during the merger of Rosary and St. Thomas Aquinas-Mercy High School in Florissant. The archdiocesan high school became Trinity Catholic High School, on the site of the former Rosary High, with Sister Karl Mary as president. This fall, Father Jeff Puthoff, SJ, will take the helm as Trinity’s new president.
One of the biggest changes Sister Karl Mary has seen over the years is helping families access affordable Catholic education. “We were used to students automatically coming to Rosary,” she said. “It’s accessibility, but also the financial wherewithal. Students just don’t automatically show up at your door, you have to go out and recruit them. In this day and age, they’re looking for the most bang for the buck — they’re looking for affordability.”
In the past 10 years, Trinity Catholic has seen a dip in enrollment, but in the last two years has experienced an upswing. For the 2017-18 school year, the school has 336 students. About 46 percent of students are Catholic; the majority of nonCatholics are members of other Christian denominations. The school also has seen an increase in African-American, Hispanic and multi-racial students over the past 10 years.
Another trend is an increase in incoming freshman coming from public and charter schools, with 41 this year, up from 29 last year. The majority of other students come from Catholic elementary schools in North County; Christ Light of the Nations, located next door to Trinity Catholic, had 14 students enrolled at Trinity this year.
“We say in our mission statement that we’re welcoming and caring,” she said. “In my mind, Catholic means universal … and we try to give them an experience of Jesus in their lives.” A priest celebrating Mass with students recently told them “we are the Body and Blood of Christ, and we may be the only Holy Communion that some people ever experience,” Sister Karl Mary recalled. “What a powerful statement — that’s what we’re all about. Jesus’ primary teaching was that of respect for every individual. We’re all made in the image and likeness of God.”
Putting God first
Michael Blackshear began his career in 1981 as a middle school math and homeroom teacher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis. He was working at a summer program hosted at Cardinal Ritter when then-teacher Leon Henderson and boys’ basketball coach and guidance counselor Preston Thomas approached him in the hallway one day and encouraged him to apply for the athletic director position.
Blackshear earned bachelor’s degrees in secondary education (emphasis in physical education and health) and education from Concordia College in Seward, Neb., a master’s degree in educational leadership from Saint Louis University and an education specialist degree in instructional leadership from Lindenwood University.
Blackshear was hired at Cardinal Ritter in the summer of 1984 as athletic director, and coached the football, track and field and girls’ basketball teams. From 1989-92, Blackshear served an additional role as dean of students at Cardinal Ritter. He later went on to Normandy High School as athletic director from 1992-2004, assistant principal at Normandy from 2001-04, and then later, spent several years as assistant principal at Hazelwood East High School and North County Technical High School.
In 2007, Henderson, who later became president, asked Blackshear if he’d apply for the associate principal position. Not wanting to pass up the chance to return, he gave a resounding “yes.” In 2009, he was named principal.
In his role, Blackshear has planned curriculum, developed classroom management strategies, and prepared students for a future in college or skilled trade work. His motto has been, “students care how much you know, when they know how much you care. These kids need someone who understands them, but also someone who holds them accountable.”
Like Trinity and many Catholic schools across the country, Cardinal Ritter Prep has experienced a decline in enrollment overall in the past 10 years, with an uptick in the past four years, according to archdiocesan data. In the past two years alone, enrollment has increased from 280 to 327 students. Roughly 99 percent of students are African American, and about 90 percent are non-Catholic. The majority of incoming freshman this year (68) had previously attended public or charter schools, with others arriving from Catholic schools in the North City and North County deaneries.
But the numbers are just that — numbers. And Blackshear says there must be a focus beyond the enrollment and geographic and racial statistics when talking about the subject of diversity. He considers Cardinal Ritter Prep one of the most diverse schools in the archdiocese. “Our students come from different walks of life — their family, their faith, their financial circumstances,” he said. “We have students coming from as far as O’Fallon, Missouri, to O’Fallon, Illinois. We see that diversity in thinking when they participate in cooperative activities. We want students to leave here as servant leaders, active in their community.”
“students care how much you know, when they know how much you care. These kids need someone who understands them, but also someone who holds them accountable.”
Sister Karl Mary agreed. “Diversity is so important, and it’s unfortunate when people immediately think of only black and white,” she said. “There’s also academic and intellectual and faith diversity. It’s so imperative that we look at all of it.”
Cardinal Ritter also faces the challenge — like other Catholic schools — of providing an education that’s affordable to families, and that’s especially important when it comes to circumstances where there’s an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. “I see what we do everyday as part of the Church’s mission,” he said.
As he hands the torch to incoming principal Shante Lyons, Blackshear said he’s hopeful that the school will continue its mission of putting God first, with the students at center, while continuing the legacy of the school, which began in 1979 in the Walnut Park neighborhood of north St. Louis to today, in the heart of Grand Center, where the school has been located since 2003.
At a surprise assembly several weeks ago, Blackshear told his students, “I never dreaded getting up a single day in the past 37 years. I always sprung out of bed,” he said. “As the time has gone on, the bounce has gotten a little less higher, but I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have done. I am thankful that God has ordered my steps in the way He has.”
Sister Karl Mary Winkelmann and Michael Blackshear, two other longtime
administrators of archdiocesan high schools are leaving their posts this
St. Mary’s High School Principal Kevin Hacker’s
retirement takes effect June 30, though he will remain at the school as
a teacher. Hacker, who has served St. Mary’s High School for 39 years,
has been the principal at St. Mary’s High School since 1995.
England, president of St. Mary’s, cited Hacker’s career that impacted
thousands of student’s lives through his work as a social studies
teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal. “Throughout his
career, Mr. Hacker has always put students first. It is that approach,
as well as his compassion and dedication, that has enabled him to enjoy
such a long and impactful career working with students in our
community,” England said.
Hacker, who was awarded the M. Cathlin
Casey Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011, was named the assistant
principal in 1982 and principal in 1995 of the archdiocesan high school
rooted in the Marianist tradition. Even after his official retirement as
principal, he will continue to teach his favorite classes where he
brings history to life.
“I’ve enjoyed a very fulfilling career in
Catholic education. It has been my honor and privilege to have worked
alongside dedicated teachers, staff, and administrators who live the
Marianist mission every day and to have served generations of Dragon
students. While I’ll miss being a principal, I will still have the
opportunity to continue doing what I love the most, teaching history to
St. Mary’s students,” Hacker said.
His father, Floyd Hacker, was the longtime principal of DuBourg High School in St. Louis.
Former Rosati-Kain president Sister Joan Andert, SSND, will retire after serving in an emeritus role after stepping down from her leadership role last year.
Joan served 30 years at Rosati-Kain, as teacher, principal and
president. Last year, in announcing the success plan, she wrote that “I
have been humbled to steward the commitment of so many students,
alumnae, parents, friends, faculty and staff so that our mission to
‘cultivate the individuality, faith, talent and aspirations of young
women who will lead and serve the world’ might thrive.”
Joan’s teaching assignments took her to East St. Louis, Quincy and
Highland, Ill., and Cape Girardeau, Mo. In the fall of 1987, she began
teaching geometry at Rosati-Kain, then just two years later she was
named the principal of Rosati-Kain. In the fall of 2008, Rosati-Kain
adopted principal and president roles, with Sister Joan becoming the
first president of the school.
One of the biggest challenges she
faced was to improve facilities. That eventually led to the Build the
Dream, Live the Legacy campaign and a 13,000 square feet addition.