Catholic Herald Article on Sr Virginia Handrup

Sr. Virginia closes book on 49 years in education
Spent 48 years at St. Joseph High School, Kenosha
By Karen MahoneySpecial to your Catholic Herald
After 48 years as a teacher at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha, School Sister of St. Francis Virginia Handrup retired. Sr. Virgina plans to continue one of her hobbies: photographing flowers, which she turns into greeting cards. (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Lucero)

KENOSHA — When School Sister of St. Francis Virginia Handrup first set foot on St. Joseph High School’s campus as a teacher, boys were wearing the required black trousers, blue shirts and skinny black ties. Girls wore white blouses, blue boleros and their blue skirts had to touch the ground when kneeling. Almost a half-century later the uniform has been transformed into khaki pants, skirts – no measuring required – and polo shirts. While the traditional Catholic school uniform changed, the English, psychology, writing and German teacher also witnessed dramatic shifts in society, education and Catholicism.After 48 years at St. Joseph High School and one year at St. Joseph Grade School in Wilmette, Ill., Sr. Virginia, who retired this year, has taught longer than most teachers within the archdiocese, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the archdiocesan Office for Schools, acknowledged Scott Weyda, liaison to schools. “The leadership at the archdiocesan office is in awe of her accomplishments and are inspired by her 48 years of educating and spiritually forming the students who attended St. Joseph over that time,” he said. ‘Standard of excellence’ benchmark According to principal Robert Freund, the alumni come back to share their college and life experiences with Sr. Virginia and fondly reminisce about their high school days. “They affectionately recall the standard of excellence that was the benchmark in her classroom, and are so appreciative of that fact,” he said, adding, “They were encouraged to develop their individual skills and were prepared to meet the challenges which awaited them at the next turn in their lives.”In the years since Sr. Virginia began teaching at St. Joseph, the 48 nuns all but disappeared from the classrooms and no longer occupy the fourth floor living quarters. The student body is more diverse, and the relaxed dress code has made way for a more relaxed educational atmosphere. “I suppose students are much more social and a little less academically inclined these days,” she said. “They seem to have a great sense of fun and are just very friendly kids who see life as a big adventure. They are not afraid of life and they think one of the primary goals of life is to enjoy it – and that’s not bad.”Kyle Sucevich, a 2007 graduate, said students respect and admire Sr. Virginia’s structured teaching methods. “In addition to teaching academic lessons, she has passed on valuable life lessons to all of her pupils, many of whom have stayed in contact with her following graduation,” he said.Tough demeanor didn’t hide loveDespite her often tough and, at times, intimidating demeanor, Sr. Virginia’s goals were never so overwhelming that students surrendered their education or their love for her. After she professed final vows, she became known as Sr. Theodore Marie, but was often affectionately referred to as “Sr. Teddy Marie” by her students. “I thought it was really cute and I liked it,” she said, “I originally took Theodore because it was my dad’s name, but after Vatican II we were allowed to go back to our baptismal name, so I went back to Virginia.”Sr. Virginia’s austere goals were not limited to her students; she was so exacting with herself that she never took off a day due to illness. “I never had one day at home in bed for colds, flu or any of that kind of thing,” she said. “They have me recorded as taking off 17 days in the past 48 years, but that included taking the kids to Europe for five days and taking off for funerals. There was even a time when I scheduled surgery during teacher convention and the principal at that time counted it against me.”One of the days she’s recorded as absent was when she received an award for educational excellence. It was a ceremony Freund had to encourage her to attend. “She has been well decorated throughout her teaching career,” he said. “Among the numerous accolades received have been the Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the Greater Milwaukee Association of the Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Chapter; the American Association of University Women’s Educational Excellence Award; Phi Delta Kappa’s Outstanding Educator Award; the Teacher of the Year Award given by the National Catholic Society of Foresters; the Educator of the Year Award presented by the Wisconsin Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools; and the 1999 St. Joseph Award presented by the St. Joseph Board of Trustees.”When Sr. Virginia was presented with the St. Joseph Award, Freund said administrators noted, “Sr. Virginia epitomizes the heart, the soul and all that is good and Godly about St. Joseph High School. In a day and age when America is obsessed with sound bite answers and quick fix solutions, this educator remains steadfast to her values and the truth that she feels in her heart. She demands total effort all the time. In return, she receives not disdain or contempt, but rather intense loyalty from her students.”Awards kept in perspectiveWhile proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, the late Hildegard Handrup was not so eager to lay on the accolades, perhaps for fear of giving her daughter a prideful attitude. “When I told my mother I won the second award, she said to me, ‘You know I am proud of you! But if you don’t know how to teach after 40 years, you probably should have gone into something else a long time ago!’” laughed Sr. Virginia, and added, “That certainly helped to keep the awards in perspective.”According to Freund, Sr. Virginia is a role model who sets the standards for educational excellence for the St. Joseph staff. “Her integrity is unquestioned, and her professionalism is unparalleled. Sister’s credibility and reputation allow us to classify her as a true master teacher,” he said. “Sr. Virginia’s expertise extends beyond a base of knowledge to include the ability to motivate students and facilitate their learning through information that flows naturally between the teacher and pupil.”While she will miss teaching at St. Joseph, Sr. Virginia wants to continue using her talents. She plans to substitute teach, begin a creative writing lab, and volunteer in the school and community. An avid reader and poet, photographer and artist, Sr. Virginia plans to explore a new venture – camping.“I like outdoor things, such as going up north and spending time in the woods,” she said, “I’d like to try camping and maybe doing some fishing.”She may need to choose a different type of bait though as the fish of today might be a bit smaller than they were when she was a girl – especially the day she snagged the biggest catch of all. “I hooked my father a couple of times in the shirt,” she said, laughing. “That was my biggest fish so far.”

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