By Scott Reeder
Soon, for the first time in its storied 128-year history, a member of a religious order will no longer be at the helm of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.
Sister Katherine O’Connor, the longtime president of the school, is retiring and a search is on for her replacement.
The Dominican sister has led the Catholic school for 18 years and plans to study theology in San Antonio in her retirement.
“I think SHG has changed with the world. There’s a lot more technology,” O’Connor said. “I think learning has changed a lot. It’s much more collaborative learning. The teacher facilitates learning rather than being the one who gives out all the information. We’ve always been blessed with very, very outstanding teachers. That’s really what makes SHG what it is: the strength of our teaching staff.”
O’Connor has a servant’s heart for her pupils. The 76-year-old can be seen doing everything from rearranging cafeteria chairs to taking students’ temperatures during the pandemic.
Amanda Brown was one of the students who graduated in the midst of the COVID 19 outbreak.
“Sister Katherine’s probably the most kind, caring, considerate and faithful person that I’ve ever met,” she said. “Her overall presence brought positivity, kindness and love in the halls of Sacred Heart Griffin. … She made it her goal to know every student on a personal level. I don’t think there was a moment where I wouldn’t randomly run into her in the halls where she wouldn’t stop me and ask how I was doing.”
Brown said Sister Katherine is omnipresent at the 500-student school.
“I don’t think I went to a single Sacred Heart-Griffin event that she wasn’t present – whether it was a football game or a big assembly – you’d always see her somewhere in the crowd talking with students, with parents, and being really friendly and open to everyone.”
O’Connor has been a part of the Dominican order for more than 50 years. She said she took her vows at a time of optimism and hope.
“I grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It was a small community. It was not a suburb of Chicago – not as it is now. My dad did commute to work every day to Chicago. He worked for the post office. I had the Dominicans in grade school at St. Thomas in Crystal Lake. And then I went to high school at Marion Central, which is a regional Catholic high school in Woodstock, Illinois. I had Holy Cross sisters there. I really liked what I saw in the Dominican sisters. They seemed happy and were always very friendly and willing to help others.
“It was that era of John Kennedy and Pope John the 23rd. John Kennedy was saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’”
Having a layperson leading the school will be a change.
“Sister Katherine made a great impact at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School,” said Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki. “It’s an end of an era, not having a Springfield Dominican sister in that position. There’s a search going on now for her successor. Most likely it will not be a Springfield Dominican sister. And so that will be a significant change.”
But O’Connor said she is optimistic about the school’s future.
“We have really worked hard to make sure that our faculty and administration know what our Dominican mission is, and whoever is hired as president will continue helping people to learn about our mission. The mission isn’t just in the Dominican Sisters. But the Dominican mission is a gift to the church.”
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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