A chance encounter with the late Sister of Charity of Nazareth Maureen Coughlin led Dr. Lisa Wieland to her role at Assumption High School 17 years ago. Wieland said she believes the “hand of God” guided her there.
Now she’s the recipient of the 2020 Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Catholic Educator Award. It was scheduled to be presented at the Salute to Catholic School Alumni Dinner March 18 at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, which has been canceled. The award, presented annually, is named for the late superintendent of Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic schools, Father Joseph M. McGee.
Wieland said that chance encounter with Sister Coughlin, who died in December, redirected her career and life. At the time, Wieland was teaching American Literature in the department of English at Spalding University. During a reorganization, she and a number of faculty members were laid off.
Sister Coughlin, herself a lauded educator, told Wieland she needed to apply to Assumption, saying: “You need them. They need you,” Wieland said.
She recalls answering, “But, sister, they do not have a job opening.”
Nevertheless, Wieland submitted her resume and to her surprise the school was in need of an English teacher.
Wieland said she sees the “hand of God” in the encounter with Sister Coughlin.
“God was leading me where I was meant to be,” she said.
Wieland earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. She went on to earn a master’s and a doctoral degree in English from Marquette University.
The Jesuit charism of both her alma maters, she said, shaped her identity and ultimately her teaching philosophy, particularly the notion of “cura personalis” — or care for the whole person.
“One reason I am truly happy here at Assumption is the (Sisters of) Mercy charism is so similar. I felt like it was a natural fit from where I was coming from,” she said.
At Assumption, Wieland teaches dual-credit senior English classes, where students are eligible to earn up to six college credit hours in English 101 and Intro to College Writing.
She also coordinates the ARISE mission week program in partnership with the school’s campus minister. In addition, she moderates the Respect Life Club and senior retreat program.
Mary Lang, president of Assumption, said Wieland was nominated because she is an “exceptional” Catholic educator who “blends outstanding classroom instruction with deep commitment to her faith.”
“She has developed programs at Assumption that allow students to truly live the Gospel, and she ‘walks the talk’ by setting a great example of what Christian leadership looks like,” Lang said.
Something about teaching high school girls excites Wieland.
“I love their energy. I like the level of communication we can have. I get to help them get ready for the next step in their lives,” Wieland said. “They are in such a great place with all the possibilities ahead of them,” she said.
In addition to imparting her love of the written word, Wieland hopes to instill a passion for justice and to develop critical thinking skills in her students, she said.
“I want to help them find their voices and be able to advocate for themselves
and others,” she said.
She considers herself “tough but fair” in the classroom.
“Students probably consider me strict. I think I’m pretty straightforward. I set expectations high but I have a good rapport with them,” she said.
Even after nearly two decades as a high school English teacher, Wieland said she is reenergized at the start of each academic year.
“Every year is a new, fresh start. I’ve been allowed to grow and I’ve been supported. I’ve never considered doing anything else,” she said.
She is a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church. She and her husband, John, have been married for 26 years and have two children: Leo, 21, and Lucy, 19.