Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer
November 12, 2014 // Local

St. Thomas principal proud to be Catholic

Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer

John Wiggins, St. Thomas the Apostle School in Elkhart’s new principal, has been busy getting to know staff, students and the needs of the school in these first months on the job.

By Denise Fedorow

ELKHART — At the start of the new school year, staff and students at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Elkhart welcomed new principal John Wiggins.

Wiggins is originally from Macon, Missouri, and said he spent most of his life in the state, including attending a small liberal arts college — Central Methodist University. He went on to get his special education degree at William Woods University and completed his doctorate at William Woods as well.

His wife Rachel has family in Auburn and raising their four children — 15-year-old twin sons and five- and six-year-old daughters near family is important to the couple. So when the job at St. Thomas came up Wiggins said, “Lo and behold, this is where God directed us.”

Wiggins was a school superintendent in the past and also ran a state school for special needs students. “But I really missed the daily interaction with the students,” he said, explaining that the interaction is what he enjoys about being principal.

In the few months he’s been at St. Thomas, Wiggins has noticed some strengths of the school, citing the school and parish family as one. “There’s a good sense of community between the parish and the school. We have excellent leadership — our pastor (Father Jason Freiburger) is phenomenal! The parents are on board with what we do, and we have great teachers,” he said.

“I see the passion they have for the students and their passion for Christ,” he said.

St. Thomas School currently educates kindergarten through eighth grade students and Wiggins noted the biggest challenge the school faces is the ability to keep technology current. He noted accessibility and how to better implement technology. One decision he and the staff are making is whether to use Bill Pay or “apps” to pay tuition and order school lunches online. Wiggins said the school is refurbishing the school website and automating everything while researching the best use of each dollar.

Aside from implementing more automation for the parents’ convenience by next year, other changes include security updates. A plan is in place to renovate and enclose the school playground for students’ safety, as well as spruce up that side of the building. Another physical change will have all elementary students in one wing of the building and all middle school students in another wing.

Teachers are currently investigating Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), which are more data-driven and Wiggins said, “We’re about to be able to offer band as a core part of class, too.” The administration is also exploring the possibility of having a pre-school grade level next year.

When asked why he felt parents should send their students to St. Thomas School he replied, “As the faithful we should all send our kids to Catholic schools where the focus is on Jesus first. By focusing on the faith it allows us to slow down a little. Certainly curriculum is important, but the reality is by knowing Christ intimately they will grow to be better human beings, better parents, better grandparents and better members of society.”

As for St. Thomas specifically, Wiggins said, “You really do feel Christ’s presence here.”

He said he talks to the staff about how important their faith and their vocation is and that God sent each child to them. “We talk about that the reality is we hold their souls in the palm of our hands. Our job is to get them to heaven first; Harvard second.”

He said the new vision of what St. Thomas stands for is “Christ, Compassion, Character,” and shared that his hope is that parents will send their students to St. Thomas for that Christ-centered focus.

Wiggins said he is really excited about growing the community between parish and school and is currently working on implementing a mentoring program. “I’m enthusiastic for a lot of the ideas the faculty has and excited the team wants to go somewhere rather than ‘this is what we’ve always done,’” he said.

Wiggins said as a new Catholic (having joined the Church 10 years ago) he wants everyone to know, “I’m really on fire for the faith.” Wiggins grew up Methodist and in fact said, “It was one month before I was set up to go to a Methodist seminary when I realized I was Catholic.”

He said it was the premature birth experience of his twin sons, including at a point where doctors suggested abortion, “when God really opened up doors and talked to me.” He said advisors at the Methodist seminary told him that if God was calling him to be Catholic, he was being led to a truth.

“Coming to the Church is one of the best experiences in my life. I know this is where God wants me,” he said. Wiggins and his family are enjoying the fullness of the faith and he is open to the future possibility of the diaconate if he feels God is calling him there.

“I want people to know I’m really proud to be Catholic,” he said.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.