Sister Jean Dietrich
School Sisters of Notre Dame

Principal of Helias Catholic High School

PYSK_SisterJean_CropCurrent job title and number of years/ months in that position: I have been the principal at Helias Catholic High School for 14 years.

Former jobs and how long in those positions: I started at Helias during the 1983-84 school year as  assistant principal/teacher. Before that I taught science at Quincy Notre Dame High School for six years and then three years at Mater Dei High School in Breese, Illinois. My first teaching assignment was at St. Paul’s in Highland, Illinois, where I taught science for two years to grades seven through 12.

Can you describe how/when you first felt called to become a nun? I was fortunate to have School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) teachers for both grade school and high school. My call came gradually as I  observed these women in their ministry. Eventually, I saw myself doing the same thing.

What was your reaction to that calling? I certainly did not pay much attention to being called until I was a senior in high school. At that point everyone in my class was making plans for the future, and the idea of joining SSND became the path that gave me the most peace.

How did your family and friends react to your calling? My parents were very supportive. I think they knew this was what I should do before I did. Some of my friends were surprised. I was not what you would
call pious. Nobody was negative probably because all of us were leaving high school to start something new, and entering SSND was certainly not a life commitment at that point.

How/why did you become interested in becoming an educator? That just kind of happened because the main ministry of SSND is education. Thankfully, I fell into a ministry I really like.

Education: St. Anthony’s (elementary school), Quincy, Illinois; Quincy Notre Dame High School, Quincy, Illinois; B.S. in chemistry, Notre Dame College, St. Louis; M.S. Sc. Ed., Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska

What do you enjoy most about working with youth? I like working with high school-aged students because you can really see them grow up from when they come in as freshmen to when they graduate. It is a time when they are starting to make plans for their adult lives. It is exciting to see students begin to match their ambitions and gifts with their future plans.

What do you find most challenging about working with youth? Their short span of vision. It is hard to help students understand that what is a major crisis now will probably not be in five years or less. It is also hard to get them to see that what you do now does play a part in the future. It can be hard to help them find a happy medium.

How do you think education is changing? What we expect from our high school students is certainly more in both scope and difficulty than when I was in high school. Sometimes I think we should step back and let kids be kids for a bit longer.

Where do you see good change within families and education? Education is valued more than ever. I see parents more involved with their students. Parents today do a better job of helping to see that their children receive the education that suits them best.

What most concerns you about changes within education and the family? I think we are pushing students pretty hard. It is not enough anymore simply to graduate from high school. Most students already have college credits due to advanced placement classes. I hope all students have time to spend with their families. I come from a big extended family where we were taught to mentor younger ones.

Is there anything you would like to say to parents who have teenaged children? Be patient; they will eventually figure out how wise you really are. Be supportive, but please let your child be responsible and learn how to take the consequences of his/her actions.

What is some of the best advice you give to teenagers? You are remarkable individuals. Each of you has something to contribute to this world. Try new things. Do not be afraid to fail. Be generous with your gifts. You will always be blessed for generosity.

Why are you passionate about your job? Because I believe that each student is infinitely worthwhile. It makes this job very gratifying and, I think, important. We strive to help each student find the place he or she is destined to hold in our world. That’s pretty cool.

Biggest career obstacle you’ve had to overcome: In my first year of teaching, I was sent to a parish school with grades one through 12. A gentleman and I were the science department for grades seven through 12. This was complete on-the-job training. I went from a class of seniors one period to a group of seventh-graders the next. This job involved lots of class preparation.

Accomplishment that makes you most proud: I have enjoyed teaching for more than 40 years.

Favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon: With a book

Last book read: Unbroken

Favorite TV show: Big Bang Theory, NCIS, Discovery

Favorite comfort food: Potato chips

Favorite app: Magic jigsaw puzzles

Ideal vacation: Uninterrupted time to read

What is something that has changed your life? Being with my parents and my older sister as they finished their lives on earth. These were special and blessed times.

Source of inspiration: My parents

Favorite hobbies: Reading and watching sports

List a fun fact about yourself that most people do not know: I grew up on a dairy farm and have great memories of country living.