Kindergarten is a magical year, because the little ones show so much change from start to finish, according to Kathy Gallagher. She should know, having spent 33 of her 44 years in education as a kindergarten teacher — all of those years at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School in south St. Louis County.
Gallagher, who retired after the last school year, said she fit in well in the role because she enjoys playing as much as children do. She taught many children of former students. And she laughed when she recalled the time when first responders were called for what turned out to be a minor health issue with a student. The paramedic who responded told the student that she, too, had Miss Gallagher as a teacher.
Through the years, Gallagher attended about seven weddings of her former first-grade students and 15 weddings of her former kindergarten students. “It was fun seeing them over the years, how they changed,” she said. “And hearing the things they remember that I don’t. It was the best job in the world,” the retired teacher said.
The hardest part of her job was the first month, as the children became used to the routine; while the best part was seeing how excited they were about learning. Gallagher invited sources from the parish to do fun things with the students, such as a parishioner who makes unique gingerbread houses. Gallagher had the children write thank-you notes to firefighters around Thanksgiving, presenting them with pumpkin bread and reading a book with the children about firefighters who work on the holiday.
Teaching children about the faith made her own faith stronger, Gallagher said, reminding her of why she holds her beliefs. Her students learned about the Mass, the items in the church and feast days. “It’s just making it real for them,” she said.
Her students made prayer angels for people and prayed for them on their prayer board.
Since retiring, Gallagher is focused on people who need help, including visiting with a relative who has been ill.
Gallagher, whose parents were teachers, wanted to be a teacher since she was in second grade. Her dad was in the military earlier, and she was born in Iran. She taught her entire career at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Her first year teaching first-graders was a little rough at first, but she soon started rolling with it, taking the attitude of having fun with the children and the learning would follow. To illustrate how amusing it is to teach young students, she tells the story of a boy and girl who argued and came to her to solve it. Gallagher told the children she didn’t see anything and didn’t know who to believe. The boy then pointed to the girl and said, “I’d believe her!”
Paula Downen, a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish, tells of her oldest children, twins, who attended kindergarten at the parish school in 2014-15 and “had the absolute most special and wonderful teacher, Miss Kathy Gallagher. Then our next child attended kindergarten at SMMA and also had Miss Gallagher. We love her. She was the perfect combination of smart, fun, compassionate, silly. The most desirable trait she held as a Catholic school teacher is that she very much lived her Catholic faith every day. She always lived her Catholic beliefs well beyond just the classroom.”
Their youngest child was supposed to have Miss Gallagher last year for kindergarten. But because of the pandemic Gallagher was not able to teach.
Gallagher touched so many lives, Downen said. “What a dedicated and holy teaching life she has had.”
>> Faith aspect
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School opened in 1964. Today the school serves 435 students in grades preschool through grade 8. The school has sought to serve the faith community of the parish by educating children in response to the commission of Jesus to teach all nations.
Students build a strong faith foundation through participating in Mass, daily prayer, religious formation and community service. The faith-filled community teaches all students to be the hands, heart and feet of Christ.
Students are encouraged to get to know one another as members of the Body of Christ through the Saint Family program. Younger students are partnered with middle school students to collaborate on activities and meetings, and sit together during Mass. Partners are part of Saint Families, who research their personal saints, gather for prayer, celebrate feast days, and join each other for activities.