June 12, 2015

Retiring educators leave legacies of family, faith and values

Encouraging students to live their Catholic faith has always been the main message of Joan Livingston, who is retiring after 40 years as a teacher and a principal at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville. Here, she is shown greeting students as they arrive at school one morning. (Submitted photo)

Encouraging students to live their Catholic faith has always been the main message of Joan Livingston, who is retiring after 40 years as a teacher and a principal at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville. Here, she is shown greeting students as they arrive at school one morning. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: Every year, the archdiocese is served by talented, dedicated teachers who share their lives and their faith with their students. As another school year ends, The Criterion features three teachers who are retiring after long careers of service to students, families and the archdiocese. See a list of all longtime educators retiring in 2015 here)
 

By John Shaughnessy

Susan Richardson wishes that everyone could experience the same great blessing she has received in her life.

“What I would wish for everyone is to do what they love to do, in a place that they love, for as long as they want to do it,” she says. “That’s been my blessing.”

For all 43 years of her teaching career in the archdiocese, Richardson taught at Holy Spirit School in Indianapolis.

Still, by the time she retired at the end of the school year on June 3, Richardson had no doubts that she wasn’t the only one blessed by her long tenure. Holy Spirit’s principal, staff and students made it abundantly clear how much of an impact she has had on their school, even starting the Susan Richardson Heart of Teaching Award in her honor.

“A month ago, I had our teachers read an article, ‘What Makes An Effective Teacher?’ ” recalls Rita Parsons, the school principal. “Within 10 minutes, I had an e-mail from a new teacher saying, ‘This is Sue Richardson.’ She is patient, kind, a quiet leader.”

Those qualities are part of the criteria for the award, which will be given each year to a graduating eighth-grade student. The award also includes a $500 scholarship to be used for the student’s high school education.

The announcement of the award at the end of the school year surprised and thrilled Richardson, who was named a Teacher of the Year in 1997 by the National Catholic Educational Association.

“Just the permanence of that act—that my name is going to be remembered here, that one of our eighth-graders is going to be sent on to high school with a little bit of financial help—I couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” she says. “That’s the kind of legacy that any teacher would be grateful for.”

Her legacy will endure far beyond financial assistance. She has always tried to give her students even more special gifts.

“The academics are important, but the most important thing is that children feel loved and respected, and they know that they have accomplished good things—to be of service to others, to grow in their faith, to see their place in the Church,” says Richardson, who taught language arts in the sixth-, seventh- and eighth grades.

“I hope the children I’ve taught remember fondly their time with me, and that I respected them and gave them roots to grow—spiritually, academically and socially.”

‘Living your faith’

Joan Livingston was on the verge of tears as a longtime friend paid tribute to her on the last day of the school year at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville.

The emotion swelled inside Livingston who has dedicated 40 years of her life at the school—14 years as a teacher and the past 26 as principal. Yet the potential for tears passed when it was suggested that Livingston lead the children one more time in her signature cheer as a principal—loudly spelling out the school’s nickname, “Lions.”

When the raucous rendition ended, everyone was smiling. And the smiles continued for Livingston as she later reflected on the roots of her dedication to Catholic education.

“My parents were very faithful Catholics, and they struggled to make it possible to give me a Catholic education,” she says. “I could pray, I could go to Mass. I could do all those things connected to my faith.”

As an educator, she has always tried to teach and show students the importance of “living your faith.”

“My hope for them is that they would learn more about their faith and be more dedicated to it. I wanted them to be that person who tries to do the right thing all the time. You can’t always do the right thing, but you can try.”

Her favorite memories include the times the kindergarten students led the singing at the Friday school Masses.

“That always made me smile. It makes your heart just swell because they take such pride in it.”

She also is touched that a section of the school’s recently renovated library is dedicated to her, recognizing her efforts to promote reading by the students. “Mrs. Livingston’s Loft” features books, pillows and photos of her through the years.

All the years and memories combine to create a lasting impression on her.

“I consider this my second home.”

A feeling of family

For Joan Berkopes, three lessons about life, faith and education stand out from her 40 years as a Catholic school teacher in the archdiocese:

  • “I have learned that the best way to teach religion is to set an example in your own life every day.”
  • “Teaching never ends at three o’clock. I was once given a sign that read that a good teacher is a teacher that instills in their students a love for learning. I believe that is so true in their love for God.”
  • “Your students are not just students. They and their families become part of your family.”

Berkopes always tried to create that sense of family during her longtime tenure as a third-grade teacher at St. Mark the Evangelist School in Indianapolis. For her, it became a feeling of family that extended beyond her classroom.

“I have learned from and been influenced by many great priests, administrators and other teachers,” says Berkopes, who also taught early in her career at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis. “It has afforded me the opportunity to learn and to grow in my own faith. Teaching in Catholic school is truly a vocation.”

That vocation has led to so many special moments that they could fill a book, she says.

“I think my most precious moments would be when a former student entering college came to visit and told me that her third-grade experience with me made her love to read, or a former student who is now a teacher came to me and said that I was the reason that she is a teacher today. I also hold dear the times when parents thanked me and told me how their child has loved my class.

“Those are the memories that make leaving teaching so hard.” †

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