Six St. Paul teachers share inspirations for a century of service 

VALPARAISO – Students and their families took the opportunity to celebrate the quality, faith-based education delivered by their teachers during Catholic Schools Week festivities. At St. Paul Catholic School, the daily dedication of six seasoned educators was recognized for amounting to more than a century of success.
The history of the Valparaiso Catholic school traces back to the St. Paul’s Academy and Grammar School, opened by founding pastor Father Michael O’Reilly in 1867. Then, the schoolhouse of academics and artistry was staffed by Sisters of Providence from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Though the total St. Paul tenures of lay teachers Kate Bogan, Debbie Czapla, Lisa Hargarten, Pam Rowley, Donna Shane, and Nycole West ­– reaches 105 years of service – it does not cover the number of years since the school’s founding, their overall teaching experience of 164 years does.
The six long-serving Panthers teachers conduct their classes at a two-story, state-of-the-art facility on Harrison Avenue that features many amenities that the Sisters of Providence could not have dreamed of. Principal Lisa Hughes lauded her team’s dedication, excellence and family-like support.
“I am so thankful for this group of educators. They are the driving force behind the success of the students of St. Paul School,” said Hughes. “They live their vocation through their words and actions and through their leadership and example to less experienced staff members.”
Whether they were recruited when the school moved into its current home, or are fulfilling the dream of being like the religious sisters that taught them, St. Paul’s “super six,” shared their inspirations for coming to St. Paul and staying onboard in the uniquely supportive environment.
Bogan said she is proud to be a cradle Catholic who returned to a “firm but compassionate” educational environment, first as a substitute teacher when she enrolled her twin boys at St. Paul. She was eventually onboarded to teach religion and social studies to sixth- through eighth-graders.
“It’s not for everyone, this is hard work,” said Bogan, a 27-year veteran of Catholic schools with 17 years at St. Paul. “It is a calling, that feeling of this is where I need to be.”
The most rewarding part of her experience has been seeing how a young person applies what they’ve learned.
“We’re always planting seeds,” Bogan said. “Occasionally, you see the kids who have grown and moved on and you just kind of look at that student and you say, ‘Oh, I remember when you were this way.’ Then you see the beautiful way they’ve become and what they are doing with their life, and you’d like to think you had a role in that.”
At 26 years, current pre-kindergarten teacher Czapla has the longest tenure at St. Paul, though she has another six years of diocesan instructional experience. She is an alumna of St. John the Baptist School in Whiting.
As excitable youngsters filed into her classroom for a bit of relaxation after lunch, she explained that some of the smiling faces represent children of those she also taught at St. Paul. Czapla has witnessed changes in school facilities. She said the old building in the center of the city was small ­and included a room branded the “Gyma-cafa-torium.”
“I was in on the planning of our new building – in fact, that’s why our classrooms are painted yellow down this hall, because (then-pastor) Father Joe (Pawlowski) asked me what color I wanted for my classroom,” Czapla explained.
Hargarten marks a decade at the Valparaiso Catholic school. An additional 15 years’ experience was gained by as physical education teacher at St. Patrick School in Chesterton and Nativity of Our Savior School in Portage.
Hargarten said that successful students – from serious athletes to less competitive boys and girls – graduate from her classes “happy and sweaty.”
“I hope that what I’ve given the students is a sense of the importance of health and wellness and staying active in their young adult lives,” said Hargarten.
“I’m so happy, so blessed,” said second-grade teacher Rowley. Could it be that she loves her job? Could it be that her students are adorable? Could it be that her pupils are reading one-year ahead of standards?
All of the above, she indicated with a beaming smile. Rowley joined the St. Paul team when she was pregnant with her daughter Emmerson, 17 years ago. The school needed teachers, and she said they were very understanding of her personal needs, including enrolling her older daughter in the Tiny Tots program.
“The timing of it could not have been better; it just worked out for my family,” Rowley explained.
Rowley said she knew teacher Donna Shane as a former colleague and soon befriended many of her fellow staff members, who have been a source of support.
As her second graders prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation, Rowley said that’s when she sees a more mature side of them, “in those conversations, preparing for that sacrament ... the first that they’re preparing for.”
Shane can list 27 years of Catholic teaching experience on her resume. She first taught for nine years at St. Edward School in Lowell before it shuttered in the years before the state’s School Choice Scholarship assistance program helped bolster private school enrollment.
She stays current with all the appropriate teaching trends for her kindergarteners, “It keeps me fresh,” Shane said.
Additionally, Shane is inspired by how many students gain a curiosity about all-things Church and “they get excited about Mass.”
“I love to see the growth of our school … even with the high numbers (of students), I love seeing the close-knit family that we still have,” Shane said.
Counting 29 years of teaching, especially her 17 years of diocesan service and 10 years at the Home of the Panthers, West calls her career choice “a vocation”.
After suffering the loss of her mother last year, she called it a blessing that families have reached out in support and students have posted on her classroom prayer board.
West does not value comparative salary compensation as much as she appreciates the intangible qualities offered by her “27 little prayer warriors.”
“It’s a community and faith atmosphere … I don’t think that you get that somewhere else,” West said about Catholic education. “I can see the students mature academically and spiritually, and that just warms my heart.”