St. Dominic teacher to receive award
By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Mary Jane Spaulding, a veteran teacher at St. Dominic School in Springfield, Ky., educates children in the tradition of the Dominican Sisters who once taught at the school, her alma mater.
The last of the Dominican Sisters of Peace (then the Sisters of St. Catharine) left the school 24 years ago when Spaulding was still a relatively new teacher. They remained just long enough to pass on their tradition to Spaulding, she said. It’s one she cherishes and upholds in her classroom.
Spaulding’s commitment to Catholic education will be honored March 14, when she will receive the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Father Joseph McGee Outstanding Educator Award. It will be presented during the annual Salute to Catholic School Alumni dinner, which benefits the Catholic Education Foundation. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at the Galt House Hotel.
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the award honors Spaulding’s dedication to Catholic education, and especially her ability to embrace tradition as well as new technology.
“She’s definitely dedicated and committed to Catholic education there in the Springfield community,” said Schulz, noting that Spaulding has taught at St. Dominic for 37 years. “She still has that sense of commitment and enthusiasm for what she does. She always focuses on the faith formation of her students. And she also stays up to date on technology.”
Pam Breunig, principal of St. Dominic, called Spaulding a “model Catholic” who is dedicated to helping parents — both in the school and in the parish — to raise their children Catholic.
Spaulding teaches second grade at the school, which means she prepares students for first reconciliation and first communion. She also prepares students for these sacraments in St. Dominic’s parish religious education program.
“She has a lifelong impact on these kids,” said Breunig. “My own son asked if he could ask Mrs. Spaulding to be his confirmation sponsor. He said, ‘I can’t think of anyone I’d rather ask.’ He is an eighth-grader now, and he has remembered her all these years.”
Breunig said that above all, Spaulding nurtures her students. During an interview last week, Spaulding said she learned the importance of nurturing her students from her own children when they were her pupils.
“They taught me to be more motherly toward all of the children,” she said.
Spaulding’s children are the latest in a string of people whom Spaulding believes formed her as a Catholic educator.
It began with her parents, Frank and Catherine Smith, and their commitment to the church. They sent her to St. Dominic, where the Dominican Sisters formed her in the faith from grade school through junior college.
After attending St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky., and Eastern Kentucky University, Spaulding returned to St. Dominic to teach, thinking she would learn the ropes and then teach at a county school where the salary was higher, she said.
“But I walked through the doors (at St. Dominic), and I knew I needed to be here,” she said. “Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who said money wasn’t that important.”
In those early years as a new teacher, Spaulding said Dominican Sister James Vincent, a seasoned teacher, shaped her as a Catholic educator.
“I pretty much modeled myself after her,” Spaulding said. “I feel like when the Dominican Sisters left St. Dominic, it became our responsibility as lay people to uphold the mission of the sisters and preach the word of God as they did.
“Everyday I go up my driveway, I can look across the fields and I can see St. Catharine Motherhouse,” she said, noting that her home and the motherhouse sit atop high hills five miles apart. “I know that I am who I am, where I am because of the Dominican Sisters and Kathleen Abell.”
Abell, another mentor, served as St. Dominic’s first lay teacher. She taught Spaulding when the latter was a student and still teaches at the school today.
“She taught me; I taught her children,” Spaulding noted. “When my children came to St. Dominic, she taught them. And now I’m teaching her grandchildren.”
The Father McGee award, Spaulding said, honors Abell and her other mentors as well as those who, like Abell, teach alongside her today.
“I don’t think this is about me,” she said, ticking off the names of other educators at the school. “I could talk about all these teachers. We have a wonderful staff. We were all offered jobs in the county, and none of us ever took them.”
Spaulding is now in her 38th year of teaching. Asked if she is considering retirement, she noted that she’s expecting her first grandchild in September. She said she always thought she’d retire when she became a grandmother.
But lately she has pledged to keep teaching as long as she is healthy enough to dance on her desk. It’s a tradition that began — to the delight of her students — decades ago. She promised her classes to perform atop her desk as an incentive for learning a new skill.
Now her young students, who hear about these antics from older kids, wait expectantly for it year after year.
Not wanting to disappoint them, Spaulding said, “As long as I can get on top of my desk and dance, I’ll teach.”