Mad for…Jennifer

…”No Catholic school can be effective without dedicated Catholic teachers, convinced of the great ideal of Catholic education. The Church needs men and women who are intent on helping to permeate the whole educational milieu with the spirit of Christ. This is a great vocation, and the Lord himself will reward all who serve in it as educators in the cause of the word of God.” –St. (Pope) John Paul II to the NCEA of the United States, April 16, 1979

One of my favorite saints is JPII. He spoke at great length about the importance of helping to form Christ in the lives of others, and he greatly revered those in Catholic education. It’s people like Jennifer Popovich who courageously share their enthusiasm for Christ each and every day that really do give me tremendous hope for the future.

I first met Jennifer when she was pregnant with her daughter, Katie, who is now a high school sophomore. Sheesh! Time flies!! She was my oldest son’s kindergarten teacher, and I admit we got off on poor footing. The Catholic school experience was brand new to our family, and like many first time parents, I was impatient and easily aggravated. When at our very first parent-teacher conference she proceeded to tell me which letters of the alphabet Nick needed to work on, I behaved badly. Rather than notice that the very pregnant Jennifer was likely exhausted after a day of such sessions and might have simply mixed up her paperwork, I was convinced of her ineptness. You see, Nick was already reading by this point and I utterly overreacted. It was a classic “oldest kid” parent move.. UGH!! I have long regretted my crabby behavior that afternoon, but I don’t think I ever apologized.

I tried to learn from my mistake that day and hopefully most of the teachers our sons were blessed to have leading their classrooms over the years felt that we were supportive and kind. You see, Jennifer truly is a talented educator who cares deeply about her students. It didn’t take me long to realize my mistake. When years later she taught my youngest, I noticed how much she encourages her students individuality and speaks to them with respect.

Jennifer is the mom to Katie, who is a sophomore at Noblesville High School as well as the wife to a handsome husband named Bob. She loves full-test Coca-Cola, comfy clothes and snuggling with Katie’s guinea pig, Graham. Since Qdoba and Chick-Fil-A are favorites too, I probably should buy her lunch to make amends and relieve my long-term guilt about our initial interaction? Perhaps a gift card wrapped up with a fresh set of colored Bic pens would be just the overdue peace offering that would help my soul find peace here! Why did I not apologize sooner anyway?

Her beautiful smile, incredible patience and solid sense of humor serve her well in her current role as a 2nd grade teacher at St. Louis de Montfort School in Fishers. Those little ones are incredibly fortunate that they have a teacher who understands the challenges and demands of being in charge of a classroom every single day, but who still seems to find satisfaction in the work she does. What an awesome responsibility!

As JPII said, “not only are the attitudes of teachers crucial for the success of Catholic education, but also the attitudes of Catholic parents.” I’m not sure Jennifer knows what an important lesson I learned from her many years ago. I tried hard to correct course. I’m grateful to you for all that you fostered in my boys and so many children over the years, Jennifer. The fact that I have also watched you be a nurturing and supportive mom to your own daughter left me with nothing but feelings of respect for the high integrity human being that you are!

What led me to write about Jennifer today was a photo I saw of her recently. She was beaming with pride, standing with her daughter. In a climate where morality is often thought to be a matter of personal preference, Catholic School teachers like Jennifer are so incredibly valuable! So, this evening, I wanted her to know that she is a lovely and authentic woman of God! Thanks, Jennifer, for all you do and all you have done, for so many of our kiddos over the years. You are an extra large slice of fantastic pie!