By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The position of school principal comes with a lot of responsibility. For several diocesan Catholic school principals, it’s a position that comes with a lot of sentiment, as well. At least five principals in the Davenport Diocese serve as principal of their alma mater.
“There have been a lot of moments when a memory would flash back to me,” said Bill Maupin, a 1983 graduate of Notre Dame High School in Burlington who has served as principal there since 2014. “My first day as principal, I walked up the back stairway and I suddenly remembered the last day of my senior year and thinking that would be the last time I would walk up those stairs. Now, 31 years later, I was walking up those stairs again, but in a different role.”
While serving as principal in the Fort Madison school district, he applied for the Notre Dame position after receiving encouragement from his former English teacher, Mary Jo Miller, who still teaches at the school.
Ben Nietzel has served as principal of Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine since 2012. Prior to that, he taught history and geography for 11 years at Muscatine High School. After seeing an opening for the principal position at the Catholic elementary around 2007, he realized he wanted to further his education so that, if the position opened up in the future, he could apply.
“I loved my job teaching and this was the only position I would have left that for,” he said. In 2012, when the principal position opened up again, he was ready to apply — with a master’s degree and administrative licensure from St. Xavier University. He was thrilled to have been hired. “I wanted Catholic education to continue to thrive in Muscatine so that my children could have the same amazing education I had. If I could do anything to help that, I wanted to.” His oldest daughter is in preschool and he has three younger children at home.
In reminiscing about his elementary school days at what was then called Hayes Catholic Elementary, he said he loved the atmosphere. “It was a strict place to go to school, but there was also a real love and warmth that radiated from the place. I also loved our full-size gym and home- cooked meals!”
His tenure as principal is just as special. “It has been awesome. Our school has always been blessed with outstanding teachers, whether religious or laity. The people who are at this school make it a great place to work and really inspire me every day when I come here. The atmosphere is just so loving and outstanding for our kids that I feel honored to get to be a small part of that.”
Nancy Peart graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Clinton in 1969. The school later consolidated with other Clinton Catholic schools to form Prince of Peace Catholic School, which she now administers as principal.
After graduating from college, Peart worked as a public school teacher and then stayed home for a number of years to be an at-home mother to her children. While her children were young and attending Catholic schools in Clinton, Peart began volunteering and eventually became a board member. Through her involvement in the workings of Catholic schools, she began to contemplate the idea of earning a master’s degree in education administration and working in Catholic education. “I have loved Catholic schools ever since I attended them. Since I had been involved with Catholic schools as an adult since the mid-80s, it was just the next step for me.”
She became principal of Prince of Peace in 2000. “I was already ‘at home’ in my school having served in many capacities previously,” Peart said. She sees a cheerful parallel between her high school days and her career as principal. “I was a cheerleader for four years and here I am, still a cheer leader for a wonderful Catholic school.”
Celeste Vincent, principal of Regina Elementary in Iowa City, attended junior high and high school at Regina in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She participated in a variety of activities, including cheerleading, pep club, plays and musicals, speech, orchestra, swimming and track. “I enjoyed my time at Regina; the teachers and staff were incredibly dedicated to all the students. They were about helping each student to have an enriched experience across the board. They wanted the best for all of us. We had nuns in our school at the time and they were fun, highly involved and wonderful role models.”
She served as a teacher and assistant principal at Regina before becoming principal in 1998. She recalls that some of the teachers she had in school were still teaching, which sometimes felt a little “awkward,” she joked. Now 17 years into her tenure, feelings of awkwardness are far behind her. “It’s very rewarding to give back to an institution that has given me so much. … I get to work with many wonderful staff and parents. The children light up your day! Being a principal in a Catholic school strengthens your faith, too.”
Bridget Murphy graduated from Assumption High School in Davenport in 1997. After college, she returned to Assumption as a math teacher and became principal in 2012, following in the footsteps of then-principal Andy Craig, who is also a graduate and now serves as Assumption’s president. “When I went into education, I knew that I wanted to be in a Catholic school,” Murphy said. “The opportunity to work and learn in an environment that fosters faith in everyday practice is something I can never take for granted. Our faculty and staff members are committed to teaching students so much more than course content. We are called to encourage young people to live their faith in all circumstances.”