May 16, 2023 // Diocese

Kathy Ehinger reflects on 33 Years of ‘Fulfilling and Humbling’ Vocation

For Kathy Ehinger, the call to become a teacher came when she was in 3rd grade.

“I was inspired by my teacher, Ms. McKean — she made learning fun,” recalled Ehinger. “My mom and dad were instrumental in my journey to become a teacher. Catholic education was very important to them. I saw how they sacrificed to send me and my siblings to a Catholic school. My mom was very involved in the school and was always willing to volunteer.”

After graduating with a teaching degree from Ball State University, Ehinger began calling Catholic schools to inquire about open positions. An interview at St. Therese School in Fort Wayne would prove providential. “I interviewed with the principal, and at the end of the interview, he asked if I would like to go see my classroom!” said Ehinger. “I remember spending most of the summer getting my classroom ready. It was so exciting.”

Photos by Eric Peat
Kathy Ehinger spent the last 33 years teaching 1st through 4th grade at St. Therese School in Fort Wayne.

Thirty-three years later, Ehinger is retiring from the only teaching job she has ever known. Although she has shifted between 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade classes, Ehinger has always called St. Therese home. While principals and pastors have come and gone — more than a dozen of them, combined — Ehinger has remained a constant on Lower Huntington Road, continually motivated by the development of young hearts and minds.

“One of the greatest rewards of teaching is seeing the progress of your students,” said Ehinger. “From when students understand a difficult concept, to helping children learn a new skill, seeing a child’s eyes light up after grasping a new piece of knowledge is priceless. I think one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is the ability to influence kids, and shape the kind of world I want to live in. I hope I was able to make a difference in the lives of my students and their families in meaningful ways every single day. It’s incredibly fulfilling and humbling all at the same time.”

Kathy Ehinger, right, talks with Julie Jauregui at Ehinger’s retirement party on Wednesday, May 10.

Amid the countless fond memories, Ehinger was quick to point out the rewarding
aspects of teaching in a Catholic school setting.

“Not only did I get to teach math, reading, science, and social studies, but I got to incorporate my love for God into every lesson I taught,” explained Ehinger. “As a Catholic school teacher, you are able to incorporate education and faith so students can see how God is present in their lives and practice applying the faith to their everyday lives.”

Rick Ruhl, Principal at St. Therese, often traces the vocation of teaching back to scripture — in particular, Proverbs 22:6: “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.”

“For the past 33 years, Kathy Ehinger has been doing just that for the St. Therese School community,” said Ruhl. “Thirty-three years of service and dedication to our school, impacting the lives of more than 500 children during her teaching career. One of the many blessings of teaching in a Catholic school and attending a Catholic school is that you get to have an encounter with Christ every day. In word and deed, Mrs. Ehinger embodies the hands and feet of Christ each day as she shares Christ’s love with her students and colleagues, and we are a great deal richer because of it.”

Kathy Ehinger embraces a guest at her retirement party on Wednesday, May 10.

Richer, too, are the numerous students who Ehinger helped prepare to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Communion — a responsibility that she calls “one of my greatest joys.”

“Being able to talk about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist with my students is a privilege and honor,” reflected Ehinger. “I remember telling my students that they were going to get to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation after a school Mass, and their response was ‘Yeah!’ I hope they will always keep that feeling.”

Many have done just that, judging from the display of love and gratitude at Ehinger’s retirement party at the St. Therese school gymnasium on Wednesday, May 10. Among her former students are all three of her own children, as well as a couple second generation students whose parents were also her students. In addition, she had the distinction of teaching Father Stephen Felichichia, Associate Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Wayne, when he was in grade school at St. Therese. The relationships she has built with these students, parents, and fellow teachers are what Ehinger said kept her coming back each year.

Kathy Ehinger (right) shares a moment with guests at her retirement party on Wednesday, May 10 at St. Therese School in Fort Wayne.

“It is really rewarding when a former student tells you that you inspired them to become a teacher,” remarked Ehinger, “or you see a former student in the grocery store, and they say, ‘I remember when you were my teacher — we had so much fun!’”

After more than three decades of fun, the time has come for Ehinger to step away. Ruhl shared the thoughts of many when he expressed his appreciation for everything that Ehinger has meant to the St. Therese community.

“On behalf of everyone at St. Therese School — past and present — I want to thank Mrs. Ehinger for selflessly sharing her many amazing gifts,” said Ruhl. “I wish her well in her retirement.”

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