By Celine Klosterman
Beulah Hessing never expected to teach at a Catholic school for 27 years.
But God had plans, said the former Presbyterian.
“I never believed I’d be at a parochial school 27 years ago,” said the retiring resource teacher at Prince of Peace Academy in Clinton.
She took her first few steps toward Catholicism more than 40 years ago, when she began dating Bill Hessing, a Catholic she later married at Sacred Heart Church in Clinton. “On our wedding day, I had no idea what the Lord had planned,” she said.
Beulah wanted herself and her husband to belong to the same denomination, but he couldn’t bear to leave Catholicism. She went to Mass with him, but felt left out since she couldn’t receive Communion. “I was on the outside looking in, and I really wanted to be in.”
An invitation from a parish staffer marked the turning point. Nancy Kremer, then-director of religious education at St. Irenaeus Church in Clinton, asked Hessing if the then-stay-at-home mom of three would teach religious education to middle-school students. “I said, ‘I’d love to, but you probably don’t want me because I’m not Catholic.’”
Kremer disagreed. She brought Hessing books to study and Hessing started teaching. During her “wonderful” year of class, she grew impressed by parishioners who donated toys for students whose family couldn’t afford them. “I thought, ‘These are such good people; I want to be part of this, too.’ That was the year I decided I didn’t want to be on the outside anymore.”
So she started attending classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In the late 1970s, she entered the Catholic Church.
“If I hadn’t taught religious education, I probably wouldn’t have come in,” Hessing said. Kremer, who couldn’t be reached for comment, “is probably the main reason I came into Catholic Church.”
Hessing is glad she joined the church. “I’ve loved being a Catholic and never looked back. I like receiving Communion every week; it was four times a year when I was Presbyterian. It felt good; it felt right.”
She said the Prince of Peace Parish family has been vital to her, especially as she battled breast cancer. “You have to have prayers.” And cards and good wishes lifted her spirits, she said.
Hessing also appreciated feeling supported in her faith when she began teaching first grade in 1982 in Clinton at Seton Catholic School and later at Prince of Peace Academy, where she recently finished serving as a resource teacher assisting students who need extra help. “I loved the fact that at a Catholic school you could start and end the day with prayer, pray before meals, talk about the Lord and go to Mass together. I thought, ‘This is so wonderful to be able to talk about this instead of having to hide it away.’”
When teaching at Fulton Elementary School in Illinois from 1966-72, she read Bible stories to students, but doubts she’d be allowed to do so at public schools now.
Hessing thinks God planned for her to share her love for faith with students. When she left the Fulton school, she said, its principal wrote her a letter saying he could see her happily teaching in a Christian school.
“That came true; the Lord has worked so many miracles,” she said. “He took me down this wonderful journey.”
Not that it’s always been easy. Hessing said it can be challenging to keep the spark for teaching alive; “the Lord has to bless you with that.” Enthusiasm she’s had came from him, she said.
“Beulah brought joy with her every day into the school environment,” said Nancy Peart, Prince of Peace schools’ administrator. “She would generously share this joy with her students and colleagues.”
Luke Roling was one such student. As a seventh-grader, a University of Iowa program recognized him for academic achievement and asked him to choose his “most influential” teacher. He chose Hessing.
“I’ve had very good teachers, and she even stood out from all of them,” said Roling, now a junior at Iowa State University. She showed constant enthusiasm and energy, he recalled. “She was always smiling and laughing” and willing to help. Today, she’s still that way, he said.
Hessing has been pleasantly surprised to find herself working near what’s now Sacred Heart Chapel each day. “I never knew I’d be happily teaching right next to the church. … It’s been a wonderful journey.”