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HARTINGTON, Neb. – Reverend James Keiter believed he had found the right teacher for his Catholic elementary school, only to see the applicant reject his job offer.

“One of the realities is that I have interviewed teacher candidates and offered one of them a position,” said the priest. “This person literally said, ‘I would love to teach here, but because of my student loans I can’t afford to teach in a Catholic school, especially a rural Catholic school.'”

Keiter, who is president of Holy Trinity School in Hartington, Nebraska, and East-West Catholic School in Bow Valley, Nebraska, knows he’s not alone in his hiring situation.

“I know of a school that had a position open last fall, advertised it and (the position) still hasn’t been filled this school year,” he said. “They really struggled to get teacher candidates to apply for positions. “

Now, Mount Marty University in Yankton has launched an initiative with Catholic schools in the area that aims to change this situation.

At a press conference Thursday in Hartington, MMU president Marc Long announced the formation of the Seton Education Scholars program at the Catholic University. The $ 10,000 scholarships are renewable for a total of four years.

Those who complete the program and earn a degree in elementary or secondary education from Mount Marty must commit to teaching for three years in a Catholic school in the Diocese of Sioux Falls or in rural schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

The primary donation of $ 250,000 for the new Seton Education Scholars program was made by Marlene Ricketts of Omaha for future educators who will serve at a school in the Archdiocese of Omaha, which includes northeastern Nebraska.

Ricketts, a strong supporter of Catholic education, is the wife of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The family owns the Chicago Cubs, and Joe and Marlene’s son, Pete Ricketts, is currently governor of Nebraska.

The scholarships will be available next fall, with five students chosen from the first round of applicants. The scholarships are named after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the patron saint of Catholic schools.

Students eligible for this scholarship must be practicing Catholics. While enrolled at Mount Marty University, Seton Fellows will receive monthly Catholic education and training in addition to serving part-time in Catholic schools or parishes.

Training and hands-on experiences will be provided by MMU campus ministry, area priests, and Catholic teachers and administrators.

Seton Scholars can focus on their studies without worrying about excessive debt, Keiter said. The program also prepares them well for their roles in Catholic teaching and service, he added.

“Quality Catholic education requires people to live out their faith through their profession,” Keiter said. “The Seton Education Scholars program will strive to remove barriers preventing students from graduating from Mount Marty in order to excel as an educator at a Catholic school in rural Nebraska.”

The timing for the scholarship was perfect, Keiter said, as he planned to make the announcement at the Archbishop’s dinner on Thursday night for 1,000 people at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.

In addition to his role in schools, Keiter is pastor of All Saints Parish, Holy Family Parish and Saint Rose Parish of Lima. These churches, located in Knox and Cedar counties, are part of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Keiter also sits on MMU’s board of directors, and he and Long get together monthly for coffee. At a rally this summer, Keiter spoke about the difficulty of hiring teachers from Catholic schools.

Long reported the priest’s concerns to MMU, seeking ideas on reducing student debt that is holding back new teachers. The idea arose for the scholarship program aimed at attracting education students who would commit to teaching in Catholic schools.

With the idea in mind, Keiter’s thoughts turned to Marlene Ricketts, whom he has known for years. He previously served in the Downtown Donor Program for the Archdiocese of Omaha from 2004-2011. Keiter has kept in touch with Ricketts, a product of Catholic schools herself and a strong supporter of Catholic education. .

Long and Keiter traveled to Omaha and visited Ricketts, who immediately embraced the idea.

“Marlene realized the difficulty of recruiting teachers in our rural Catholic schools compared to urban areas which are sometimes more attractive for a variety of reasons,” Keiter said. “She saw this need. It took him 30 seconds to make the decision to fund these scholarships.

Keiter knows that attracting teachers to rural Catholic schools is always a challenge. “I had to hire three teachers for a year, and it was really tough,” he said.

Talks are already underway with other potential Seton Scholars donors, both from the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Sioux Falls covering eastern South Dakota, Long said.

“We want to benefit students and schools on both sides of the river (Missouri),” he said.

To focus the Seton Scholars’ efforts on rural schools, its graduates cannot settle for their three-year engagement in Douglas and Sarpy (Omaha metropolitan area) or Fremont counties, which are considered urban.

Chris Uttecht is already seeing the benefits of the Seton Scholars program as Principal of Cedar Catholic Junior / Senior High School in Hartington.

“What is really exciting about this program is that it not only gives students the opportunity and incentive to pursue a degree in education, but it also expands our pool of applicants to teach in our schools. Catholics, ”he said.

“I went to a public school, so I never spent a day in a Catholic school until my first day as principal here. It is difficult to describe the difference in a Catholic school, but it is based on faith and allows for a high quality education for the whole student. This (scholarship) will maintain a strong commitment to our Catholic schools in rural Nebraska. “

Uttecht cited the example of four generations of teachers at Cedar Catholic. The math teacher, now in school for 52 years, taught a fifth-grade teacher who taught a music teacher who taught a social studies teacher.

His wife, Stacy Uttecht, is principal of Holy Trinity School and agrees on the importance of Seton Scholars.

“I think it just brings a larger pool of qualified applicants to our school,” she said. “I look forward to its launch next year.

Vickie Kauffold, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Omaha, attended Thursday’s press conference. She sees the Seton Scholars program as a huge benefit to the Archdiocese’s 33 rural primary schools and nine rural secondary schools.

In particular, she sees Catholic students returning to their region of origin as teachers. “Research indicates that teachers are more likely to return to their hometowns or where they went to college. It’s a ‘grow yourself’ mentality, ”she said.

Kauffold stressed the importance of the mentoring aspect of the scholarship program, which helps to better prepare teachers and keep them in the profession.

Thursday’s audience included Sister Candy Chrystal, chair of the MMU’s teacher education department, and Professor Jennifer Weber.

“It will benefit not only our Catholic schools, but our Catholic churches and communities as well, as these students graduate from Mount Marty and become ready to serve,” Sister Candy said.

MMU teacher preparation programs normally enroll 18 to 22 students per class, but the number has stabilized at a dozen students during the pandemic, Weber said. The MMU program has room for additional Seton Fellows.

The program will attract a special student, Weber predicted. “We are working to promote a servant heart among our students,” she said.

Sister Candy agreed that future Catholic teachers will do more than impart information.

“We don’t teach subjects; we teach people, ”she said. “A principal told me he knew which teachers were from Mount Marty because they were very student-oriented. We promote that kind of holistic thing. We teach relationships.

Sister Candy looks forward to working with even more education students through the Seton Scholars program.

“What I love about Mount Marty is that I see these (students) come in first year and then second year, juniors and seniors,” she said. “I see their legs move from the student side of the desk to the teacher side. It is not a job but a ministry.

Chris Uttecht highlighted the formation of Holy Trinity School in 1901, followed by the opening of Cedar Catholic almost 60 years later. Now the new scholarships will launch Catholic schools into a new era, he said.

“Here we are, almost 60 years later, with yet another innovation (the Seton Scholars) that will help support and maintain Catholic education in rural areas for years to come,” he said.

Students interested in pursuing this scholarship are encouraged to contact the Mount Marty University admissions office.

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.


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