Diocesan educators cherish relationships built in classroom

MERRILLVILLE – Five retiring teachers were honored by the Diocese of Gary at the annual Teacher Recognition Luncheon hosted on May 3 by the Office of Catholic Schools at Innsbrook Country Club.

Bishop Robert J. McClory thanked the retirees and those honored for milestone teaching anniversaries for their dedication, offering “a blessing as you toil in the vineyard,” while Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Majchrowicz, also retiring this year, thanked the diocesan educators “for allowing me to be a part of your journey for the past seven years, capping a 48-year career in education.
This year’s retiring teachers are:
Rita Dodd, of Chesterton, parishioner at St. Patrick, Chesterton
Having taught physical education and health at Our Lady of Grace School in Highland for 20 years, “knowing when a student is having difficulty with a skill and working with them to overcome that difficulty” is her favorite memory as a teacher. “Being with students from the very beginning through graduation, and being able to see the growth in each one of them” is what Dodd has found most rewarding about her career. In retirement, she looks forward to “being able to help out more caring for my grandchildren and having time to do things I never felt I had time for, like gardening, crafts and quilting.”
Phyllis Murzyn, of St. John, parishioner at St. John the Evangelist, St. John
An English teacher at Andrean High School in Merrillville since 2013, having taught AP Literature and grades 11-12 Honors/Dual Credit courses through Purdue University Northwest, Murzyn began her career at Aquinas Catholic Community School in Merrillville in 1993, teaching grades 7-8 for 10 years before heading to St. Liborius School in Crete, Ill. from 2003-09 and adding a stint as a reading teacher at Hammond High School in 2012. “The growth of the students from September to May” is the most rewarding thing about teaching, to Murzyn. “The maturity they develop and their growth as individuals makes every day different. The smiles you receive when rewarding accomplishments” is worth the effort. “My best memory is watching my seniors graduate,” she said. In retirement, she added with a smile, “I look forward to not having to grade another essay.”
Deborah Rokosz, of Whiting, parishioner at St. Casimir, Hammond
Beginning as a Spelling, Art and Remediation teacher for grades 1-2 at St. John Fishers School in Evergreen Park, Ill., Rokosz headed to Sacred Heart School in Hammond as a Reading and Language Arts teacher for grades 5-8, then landed in first grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Hammond in 1982 for a year. She spent 10 years, 1988-98, as a seventh grade Literature teacher, before becoming preschool teacher at St. Casimir in 1999. Rokosz moved to junior high in 2005, returned to preschool in 2015, and finished as a Reading and Language Arts educator in fifth grade for the past three years, all at St. Casimir. “The most rewarding thing about being a teacher is seeing the look on a child’s face when they ‘get it.’ To know that you helped them learn something is a wonderful feeling,” said Rokosz, adding that her favorite memory is starting the St. Casimir Drama Club for eighth graders. “Seeing each class pour their hearts and souls into each production and seeing how proud they were of their accomplishments is something I will always remember.” She looks forward to “an adventure of epic proportions” by moving near her daughters, sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren in Lowell.
Mary Beth Stanek, of Highland, parishioner at St. Thomas More, Munster
A kindergarten teacher at St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago for 42 years, Stanek has enjoyed being at one school since 1981. “The first time I entered St. Stanislaus School, I was in awe. A feeling came over me, and I knew that I was just meant to be there.  It is most rewarding to have spent my entire teaching career exactly where I was meant to be.” It is no surprise that Stanek has “many, many special memories. One of the most meaningful is the opportunity to provide my students with one of their first experiences in school. I can watch them grow. It is very rewarding to see former students in the community. I have the pleasure of currently working with two of my former students, and one of my former students is one of our seminarians.” After her rewarding career, Stanek looks forward to “no alarms and multiple snoozing, rest and relaxation, spending more time with grown-ups!”

Alene Sullivan, of Valparaiso, a parishioner at St. Paul, Valparaiso
Third grade at St. Paul School was Sullivan’s first teaching assignment, in 2008, before she spent a year as a fourth grade teacher at Washington Township Elementary School in Valparaiso. “I missed Catholic education,” she said, returning to St. Paul in 2010 to teach fifth grade for two years, middle school English for two years, and finally back to third grade for the past nine years. “I think the most rewarding thing about being a teacher is the relationships you build with your students,” Sullivan said. “Academically, those moments when you realize you gave confidence to a struggling student or a lesson that the students talk about for a few weeks are special. But the most rewarding is the family you create in a classroom.” The pandemic provided Sullivan with her favorite memory – “After we shut down in March (2020), my students made a video of the prayers they had learned that year and wrote how much they missed me. I will treasure that video forever.” Sullivan is “looking forward to traveling, golfing and spending time with my two grandchildren” in retirement, but added, “I do plan on still helping out in the classroom at St. Paul, because I love teaching!” she said.