By Dennis Morgan
Come May, Sister Patricia Hoffman will complete her 50th year as a teacher at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School. And, when school dismisses for the final time for the 2021-22 school year, it will mark the end of a remarkable career.
Sister Pat, as many know her, informed the parochial school of her plans to step aside, capping 68 years of educating youth.
“It seems like it’s time to step down,” she told The Elgin Review Monday morning, “and let someone younger take over.”
When that final day comes in May, Sister Pat will walk away with no regrets. In fact, she said she has yet to make any plans beyond May. When school starts in August, someone will teach Sister Pat’s classes, but no one will fill her shoes. And, it’s likely no one at the school will devote a half century to educating our youth.
Check out her story, as told by Jane Schuchardt, at www.elginreview.com.
REPOSTED from the August 25, 2021 issue of The Elgin Review…
Editor’s Note: This continues a series of monthly articles celebrating pride in our town and its surroundings shown through the experience of residents.
By Jane Schuchardt
Special to the Elgin Review
Q – Why live here?
A – “I love the work I do and the people.”
That’s the quick summary from Elgin’s own Sister Pat (Sr. Patricia Hoffman) as she launches her 50th year teaching at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin.
Beyond her love of rural life, Sister Pat chose Elgin in response to an opening here for a math teacher. “Rural plus opening, that’s why I came,” she said, admitting she would be much more comfortable teaching a math lesson than talking about herself.
“I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person; I like to empower others,” she said as she spoke from her simple residence just west of the Catholic school gymnasium. Well-appointed with Christian symbolism, it is a humble retreat where she prays, reads, tends to and arranges flowers, and, in recent months, spends plenty of time on Zoom meetings.
“When I became a nun, our main communication (amongst the sisters) was by mail,” she said, perhaps yearning for the simpler life. Now, together with her 302-member School Sisters of St. Francis in the United States, video meetings, emails, and web browsing help frame her day outside the classroom. Her international congregation numbers 596 sisters from such faraway places as India, Germany, and Central and South America, together with those from the United States.
“Nowadays, there’s so much with technology,” she said, referencing a daily prayer communique, routine video conferencing, and emails with reading suggestions for spiritual growth.
She wouldn’t have it any other way, speaking of her decision to accept the Catholic vow of obedience. Together with her local, national, and international religious community, she said, “I gained the freedom to spend more time in prayer and to attend religious services, to help other people, especially youth, and to reflect quietly. There is nothing that I crave. I have gained so much.”
And she has given so much. Just ask Dean Schrage, co-owner of Elgin’s Dean’s Market. He admits Sister Pat’s classes were tough and she kept the students in line. Yet, now, as a grocery store operator, he deeply appreciates Sister Pat for the math skills she taught him that he puts to good use each and every day.
Schrage is one of 5,000-plus students Sister Pat estimates she has taught since her first day in the classroom in 1954. This will be her 68th year teaching mostly math, and biology through the years. It doesn’t stop there. By her own assessment, she also teaches self-discipline, a desire to learn from successes and mistakes, and how to work together and respect each other. “I teach to reach each student individually,” she said, “to help them make progress at their level.”
She gleams with pride when she thinks about her students’ successes, from those who have prospered in Elgin or gone into military, religious and medical careers. While coming from a small town might be considered a hindrance to some, she is fully confident that her students can compete anywhere at any level.
Sister Pat started her teaching career with first graders in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Class sizes could be 60 or more. Now, her high school classes average 10 with some students completing her college-level algebra, trigonometry, and calculus courses for credit from Northeast Community College.
Her passion for teaching launched as a little girl when she ‘played school’ with her aunts, who were teachers and gave the Osmond farm family of 10 children a trunk filled with books. “In my heart, I always thought of myself as a teacher,” she said, “and as a sister.”
In third grade, she boarded with sisters that taught in Osmond and “I saw the way the sisters lived.” When the family moved to the edge of town, she yearned to be like the teachers at the Catholic St. Mary’s School in Osmond. She sped through high school in three years at the St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by attending summer school.
“When I said I wanted to be a teacher and a sister, my parents supported me, though some in our small town thought I was too young to decide (about being a sister),” she said. “Some people fight the call to religious life. I was ready to do what I was asked (by God) to do.”
Her Bachelor of Arts degree took 10 years to complete, one full-time year and the rest summer school. She majored in math and biology at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in six years of summer school from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. For her graduate work, she had funding from a National Science Foundation scholarship and focused her studies on math teaching. Her educational path which started with first grade at a country school at age five is robust, and, from the accounts of all who know her, a gifted resource for Elgin.
While not revealing her age, those who took math from her can likely figure it out by studying the facts supplied in this article. “I would rather they think I’m __ than maybe 90,” she said with a chuckle.
With a clip in her step, a near wrinkle-free smile on her face, and the quick wit of a person half her age, Sister Pat has no plans to retire. “I’ll know when it’s time,” she said, and when that time comes, she can go to a Catholic residence for sisters in Omaha or Milwaukee, or maybe stay here. “I’ll talk it over with community leaders and discern what is best,” she said.
In the meantime, she lives life reverently in service to God and our community and exudes gratitude. “I have lived, and continue to live, a blessed life. People are generous with their time and their garden produce,” she said as she eyes a gorgeous bouquet of gladiolas gifted her recently.
Though she speaks kindly of experiences here in Elgin, she recounts one that wasn’t so fun. Speaking about looking for unique fundraisers to support the church and school, students and teachers used to pick up corn in fields after harvest. “I remember going out on a cold day when it was snowing, but the most challenging time was when we were invited to pick up corn after a fire swept the field. We were a sight when we came home. It took more than one bath to finally get clean again,” she said.
As the interview wrapped up, Sister Pat said she hoped more young people would stay in Elgin or move back. “You feel safe here and close to nature,” she said. “We have so many choices of schools, churches, and clinics here, beauticians, a pharmacy, a grocery store beyond expectation, a bank, a weekly newspaper, and neighbors who look out for each other. We have citizens who are concerned about recycling and caring for the earth. The needs of the farming and ranching community are met locally.”
To add to all those positives, Elgin boasts a seasoned, caring, top-notch teacher, sister, and friend living right here amongst us all.
Thank you, Sister Pat.