June 3, 2014 // Uncategorized

Mary Keefer retires as principal of Bishop Luers High School

Principal Mary Keefer, center, poses with the third-period chamber ensemble students at Bishop Luers High School on May 7. Keefer will retire on June 30 after 18 years at the administrative helm and is grateful to have played a role in the lives of the over 2,500 students she has known over her tenure.

By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — At the end of this academic year the staff and students of Bishop Luers High School will bid a fond farewell to Principal Mary Keefer as she retires.

For the past 18 years, Bishop Luers, on the south side of Fort Wayne, has been home for Keefer whose heartfelt wisdom and exceptional leadership has helped build character and form the academic and religious education of thousands of graduates.

“It’s the best job,” Keefer proclaims of her administration position at Luers, “I wish everyone in the whole wide world could experience the joy it is! I’ve been so lucky!”

A native of Fort Wayne, Keefer, who was educated in the Catholic school system, holds a master’s degree in education and another in administration, both from Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

Her teaching career began in East Allen County Schools. She and her husband Steve were married in 1971 and after three-and-a-half years of teaching second grade she became a stay-at-home mom following the birth of their daughter, Jennifer. In due time she returned to teaching at St. John the Baptist School, this time in seventh and eighth grades.

After being blessed, some 10 years after the birth of their daughter, with the adoption of their son, Nick, Keefer accepted a position at Bishop Luers teaching theology, all the while studying to earn her master’s degrees and caring for her daughter and infant son. Eventually she held an assistant principal position at Bellmont High School where her husband Steve taught and transitioned to Bishop Luers as principal in 1996.

Of her administration, Keefer feels she has brought, “absolute love and passion for these kids. I love getting to know them and their families and stories.” She notes that, “it’s a good place for kids. Our kids are happy here.”

“We’re not perfect, I know that,” Keefer admits, “But the size of our school enables us to know our kids and care deeply for them.” Bishop Luers has a current enrollment of 600 students in grades 9-12.

Of the strengths of the school, Keefer reports first and foremost is the remarkable staff. “We have an incredibly professional staff. They are all very dedicated,” she says, adding that her successful longevity is due in part to, “surrounding myself with people who do phenomenal work!”

Another strength involves the growth in the school’s diversity, which has changed the landscape of its student body over the years. “That’s critical in the 21st century,” Keefer says. Twenty-eight percent of the students are minority and though 30 percent of the students enrolled are non-Catholic, they are required to take and pass religion classes for graduation.

Bishop Luers has continued through Keefer’s tenure to strengthen its Catholic identity. “We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our Catholic identity,” she says, adding that it makes a difference to families in the area who choose Bishop Luers for their teens over the other area high schools. “They want the values we present to our children. And that’s a good thing,” she says.

“We are planting seeds to all comers. We evangelize, we teach the truth, we practice our faith and we love our kids,” says the enthusiastic principal.

Faith, Keefer confirms, is the foundation of her administrative prowess. “This is challenging,” she admits, “I have support, but I couldn’t do it without my faith.”

As for her legacy, Keefer hopes that the students have learned that how they treat people matters. “Book learning will come — but what kind of person will you become?” she asks, adding, “It’s life skills. Learn how to be kind.” Keefer proudly and prominently displays a plaque in her office amidst photos of past graduates and her own children that speaks of this legacy. “Be kind to each other,” it reads simply.

But the best part of her job, Keefer says, is “seeing the successes of the kids after graduation. We have doctors, dentists, teachers. Two are in Rome studying for the Priesthood. To follow those kids and their careers … I’m just so proud of them,” she says.

As for retirement, Keefer concedes, “It’s time, I know it’s time.” This longtime educator adds with a chuckle, “Time for somebody to walk around here with an iPad instead of paper and pen.”

It helps to know that she leaves the school in good shape. Keefer feels Bishop Luers is currently a “healthy school — healthy academically, spiritually, financially and socially.” “It’s just a go time,” she notes.

Though she admits she will miss the students and staff at Bishop Luers, Keefer has a varied list of plans. In her retirement she hopes to “read a 1,000 books,” fish on a quiet lake and continue to play mah-jongg, an ancient tile game, with her friends. She also dreams of finding part-time work that would start after noon and “I pick the days,” she chuckles, perhaps teaching adult reading or reading to the blind.

Her husband Steve, who is retired but coaches freshman football at Bishop Luers, and the soon-to-be retired Keefer also plan to spend more time with their five delightful grandchildren.

Principal Keefer retires June 30.

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