Homecoming: Alumni return to Work for Catholic Alma Maters
High school is a formative part of the American adolescent experience. Whether that experience is pleasant depends a great deal on the school’s culture. When toxic, people can’t wait to leave. When wonderful, they sometimes come back.
In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, many Catholic high schools are swarming with alumni faculty, staff and coaches, although no official list exists to determine which school has the most.
Elder High School in Price Hill has 44 alumni faculty and staff, not including coaches who don’t work at the school. “Elder grads appreciate the Catholic education they received—the values, work ethic and accountability that was ingrained in them during their four years— and end up feeling the desire to give back to their alma mater,” said Kurt Ruffing, principal and Elder Panther, class of 1981.
While every school has its own culture, the Purple Pride has a reputation of being ingrained for life. Each Friday is Purple Friday, when students wear the school’s colors. According to Ruffing, many Elder grads continue the Purple Friday tradition throughout their life, no matter where they live.
“Whatever the next phase of life, Elder students are prepared to excel. The school’s curriculum challenges them to push themselves, learn to problem-solve and develop good work and study habits,” Ruffing said. “As a result, young men develop holistically in mind, body and spirit to become productive members of society.”
While alumni compose a big part of Elder’s workforce, Ruffing said the trend is organic. They first and foremost look to hire the best candidate for a job, but with the solid high school education Elder provides, it’s no surprise that the best person for the job is often a Panther.
Across the city in Reading, at Mount Notre Dame High School, President Judy Back Gerwe sees a similar trend of graduates returning. The school boasts 39 alumnae teachers and staff, more than 20% of its employees.
“I think being an all-girls school certainly has its benefits academically, but also socially,” she said. “The girls form lifelong friendships from their high school days. You know how it is in Cincinnati. You ask where someone went to school and they mention high schools, not college… It’s a safe space. It’s a sacred space. It’s a home away from home for most of our girls, and they want to keep that connection.”
The alumnae who come back to work at Mount Notre Dame stick around, and former students enjoy teaching alongside their former mentors. Gerwe, MND Cougar, class of 1978, said a staff member when she was a student is now a colleague. MND’s alumnae employees span 50 graduating years: the main office manager, Darlene Meyer Santel, graduated with the class of 1968 and the most recent alumna hire, social studies teacher Abby Renneker, graduated with the class of 2018.
“We refer to it here as ‘The Sisterhood.’ I think the biggest thing is the charism that we share with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur,” Gerwe said. “Their founder, St. Julie Billiart, is known for saying ‘How good is the good God?’ She’s known as the smiling saint. So, you often hear about Mount Notre Dame that it’s a joyful place. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere.”
Gerwe noted that the school fosters a relationship with its 10,000 alumnae, inviting them back for events and staying in contact via newsletters.
Pictured: Elder High School alumni Mitch Ward ’16; Scott Ridder ’87; Kevin Espelage ’91; Kurt Ruffing ’81; Brian Hiles ‘03
Mount Notre Dame Alumni
Bedinghaus Ruth Bedinghaus ’69, SNDdeN
Black Tina Linesch Black ’85
Brinkman Charissa Matthews Brinkman ’98
Desrosiers Julia Desrosiers ’17
Doepker Sarah Dodds Doepker ’95
Enochs Kelly Cregan Enochs ’04
Gallo Jennifer Jung Gallo ’85
Gerwe Judy Back Gerwe ’78
Grimm Kate Anderson Grimm ’06
Heldman Melanie Heldman ’17
Mechley Maureen Schmitz Mechley ’89
Merritt Amy Merritt ’96
Miller Terri McMillen Miller ’81
Minix Christine Terzuoli Minix ’05
Neubauer Emily Neubauer ’05
Newport Cassidy Miller Newport ’11
Renneker Abby Renneker ’18
Santel Darlene Meyer Santel ’68
Sinitean Anita Lukey Sinitean ’04
Stacey Cheri Cunningham Stacey ’71
Thamann Jen Eling Thamann ’01
Wingerberg Terri Hill Wingerberg ’81
Zoz Annie Lipps Zoz ’89
Benz Ally Benz ’15
Brandner Beth Vonderbrink Brandner ’05
David Fallon Lane-David ’00
Davis Dominique Davis ’12
DiNardo Lauren DiNardo ’11
Gallo Caroline Gallo ’15
Kerley Robyn Kerley ’12
Kuhlman Sara Kuhlman ’10
Lewis Jenny Reilly Lewis ’01
Pisciotta Sarah Pisciotta ’15
Puthoff Amanda Puthoff ’16
Rogiers Allison Rogiers ’16
Shuler Michelle Jones-Shuler ’05
Szczepanski Dani Szczepanski ’16
Vonderbrink Jen Vonderbrink ’11
Zeuch Sydney Zeuch ’16
Mount Notre Dame Alumni
This article appeared in the January 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.