When I was young I attended public school, which meant going to CCD. (Now it is called Religious Ed.) It also meant that my parents had to be very intentional about raising my brothers and me Catholic.
One of the ways my mom did this was by talking to us about prayer and asking us to pray together, especially in times of trial.
I remember when a well line broke on the farm, my mother gathered us to pray to Mary and ask her to help us find the break so we would have water for the livestock. The first prayer card I received from my mom was of St. Joseph. I remember having a discussion about his role as foster father and the power of praying to him specifically.
Over the years she and I have called, texted or shared in conversations and requests to have each other join in praying to St. Joseph for someone or about a particular issue.
When Pope Francis announced that 2021 was the year of St. Joseph, I was delighted! My mom sent me a whole book of prayers to St. Joseph. Tucked in the pages is the prayer she taught me, years ago, but there are so many other beautiful prayers there too!
I have spent 2021 contemplating the quiet, loyal foster father of our Savior. I love that prayers to St. Joseph are often labeled, ‘for impossible causes’ or ‘difficult situations.’ Guided by the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph faced a difficult situation with kindness and compassion and he was witness to the impossible made possible.
Ana Zulkoski says she knew Duchesne was different the moment she walked into the building as an eighth-grade student.
“Everyone was so welcoming and I could see myself walking through the halls. I liked how the teachers taught and that they were open and honest with all the students,” Zulkoski said.
Four years later, she says her classmates and teachers have helped her learn about the world and herself in a supportive environment. Given the difficulties presented by Covid, school administrators challenged Zulkoski and her classmates in A’21 with guiding younger students and ensuring they continue to build a supportive community.
“Duchesne is a place where there is a lot of love and a lot of community and connections,” Zulkoski said.
Their efforts have paid off. Younger students say they feel empowered to be themselves when they come to school.
“I love Duchesne because the community is really close-knit and everyone is always looking out for one another,” said Ina Satpathy, A’23.
The strong sense of community bonds students to each other and to Duchesne’s alumnae.
“If you haven’t been back to Duchesne in a while, I think returning would feel the same as it did when you walked through those doors as a student,” said Sophia Harding, A’23.
“Even though students are making new memories today the Sacred Heart foundation and family that you know and love is still here,” she said.
As they build community, students share their joy, creating an environment where every student can learn and grow into the woman she is called to be.
OMAHA (Duchesne Academy) – She was nearly 20 years into her teaching career but Martha Heck felt something was now missing. She loved her students at Elkhorn High School, but the job just wasn’t the same since leaving Cathedral High two years earlier following its closure. When she saw an opening for an English teacher at Duchesne Academy in the summer of 1996, she felt called to apply.
“The minute I walked through the doors at portry, my life changed,” she said.
After 25 years of teaching and serving as Dean of Students at Duchesne, Heck will retire at the end of this school year.
Heck says she feels this is a natural time to step away and allow a new person to serve as Dean. She plans to take time for herself and spend time with family and friends.
“I will miss the hundreds of students, colleagues, and parents who have immeasurably impacted my life,” she said.
Heck says she felt a connection almost instantly with her students and the school’s mission and Sacred Heart foundation.
“I had never taught in an all-girls school, she said. “I loved the openness and confidence that the young women exhibited in this environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and eager they were to learn.”
Colleagues quickly recognized Heck’s passion for her students and her work.
“Duchesne has been fortunate to have had Martha working and teaching here for 25 years. She models our values every day and I know that I and all our colleagues have become better educators by following her example,” said Head of School Meg Brudney.
Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne’s Principal, remembers Heck’s first years at Duchesne, working as fellow teachers.
“Her gentle presence and love of literature made her an instant favorite among students,” said Principal Dr. Laura Hickman.
Soon, Heck earned a reputation as a firm but loving role model.
“One time, I heard of her calling a student to apologize for them not feeling loved and respected by our community at Duchesne. She does truly care and that she wants to do her job to the best of her ability to ensure that all students feel loved and supported by not only their peers, but their whole community at Duchesne,” said Caroline Ortman, A20.
After leaving the classroom for the Dean’s office, Heck found new ways to connect with students. She serves as the Student Council moderator and often chaperones student trips.
“I have been able to go to places such as Uganda, France, Italy, New Orleans and other cities within the Network,” she said.
Of course, when Heck leaves so will Frannie, her goldendoodle who accompanies her to work. She began bringing her dog into school as a way to help students relax. Now, Frannie is as much a fixture at Duchesne as Heck. They both hope to visit often.
“I love Frannie. She’s the perfect thing when you’re having a bad day, just stop by and she’s happy to see you,” said Marissa Brown, A22.
Heck was raised in Council Bluffs and attended St. Albert High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Mary. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She says she is a product of Catholic education believes in what it provides to children beyond regular subject matter.
“Catholic education is important to me because the teachings of Jesus, St. Madeleine Sophie and Rose Philippine inform everything that we do. We can, without any reservations, teach our young women to model Jesus and these amazing women. We can teach that ‘Love is our mission,’” Heck said.
Hickman believes Heck’s commitment to being an example of living the Sacred Heart goals and teaching with a loving heart will be her legacy at Duchesne.
Heck keeps a quote of Madeleine Sophie on her desk that reminds her “to never correct the children when out of humor or impatient; soften your reprimands with kind words; win them by an appeal to their piety.”
“This, in short, has been Martha’s impact. She has taught as Sophie taught and loved as Sofie loved,” said Hickman.
Enforcing rules can sometimes make someone feel isolated and Heck acknowledged those feelings in a farewell message to teachers and staff, but she says she found strength in Duchesne’s mission.
“Some of those days also brought anxiety, frustration, sorrow, and worry, but they were all part of teaching young women about the world and their bright futures. I cannot think of anywhere else that I would want to spend my days, and I thank all of you for that.”
Eveline Gnabasik Bethune, A05, has overhauled her company’s production line to make hand sanitizer for professionals fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Eveline Gnabasik Bethune, A05, and her husband, Kenneth, own and operate Coastal Bend Distilling in Beeville, Texas. They have stopped making spirits and are now making alcohol for hand sanitizer they’re donating to first responders. She took time out of her day to talk with Duchesne:
What inspired you to make sanitizer? Our distillery is founded on three values: craft, community and culture. We make it a point to live our values in every decision we make, and at this time we were really drawn to help our community in need. When we saw the opportunity to make use of our unique access to resources & how we could pivot our operations in a way that provided meaningful support during this time of need, we saw it as a way to support our community.
How long did it take you to switch from making spirits to sanitizer? It took us about 2-3 weeks to shift over to making sanitizer. Several supply chains were interrupted and still are today, so our orders on bottles are often backlogged. We also had to be creative when sourcing hydrogen peroxide and looked to local or regional grocery and pharmacy businesses to help supply that.
How are you delivering the sanitizer to first responders? Over the years our employees have formed a tight network in the community, and so we were already in close communication with local law enforcement, healthcare and other first responders before we even had product to market. Since then word has spread like wildfire and they’re contacting us faster than we can reach out to them. This has truly been an eye-opening experience to see the high level of demand that is out there for sanitizer and related products!
What is it like operating a business right now? It’s uncertain times for small business owners. You have to be preemptive, innovative, and adaptive to change. That goes for all kinds of small businesses, not just our distillery. If you aren’t adapting with the times, you’ll lose essential income and lose relevance to your customer base.
Any message for current Duchesne students? Try to learn from the unexpected changes thrust upon you right now. Your “normal” life may be temporarily upset, but try to look at it with a silver lining and keep faith that God has a plan. What skills do I have that can answer a need in the community or among my peers? How can I grow from this? How can I be a leader and a role-model helping to drive our community forward to a solution? If we all become more self-reflective during tough times like this, I think we’ll succeed in making the world a better place.
You can find out more about Coastal Bend Distilling here and by following them on social media: @coastalbenddistilling.
Archivist Margo Bieker, A71, uncovered House Journal entries from 1918 which shed light on how Duchesne operated during the flu pandemic.
OMAHA – As Duchesne begins its second week of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is not without precedent. The school was closed for at least four weeks in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic, a search of the Duchesne College and Academy archives has revealed.
The Religious of the Sacred Heart and the greater Omaha community relied on precautions similar to social distancing and closures seen today to stop the spread of the virus, with mixed results.
The first reference to the flu appears in the House Journal on October 7, 1918, when the unidentified nun keeping the journal wrote schools, churches, theatres, and other public places were closed. The community prayed for an end to the spread of the disease, including a novena (the Duchesne community is doing the same today). The Journal reveals schools were closed and students were sent home for four weeks, from early October to early November, as people tried to stop the virus from spreading. The Journal notes the spread was particularly severe in the eastern part of the United States.
In 2020, students are completing their coursework online using email, phone calls, and video conferencing. In 1918, students had to attend class on Saturday and give up a week of Christmas vacation to make up for lost school days. Just a week after students returned to class following the four-week closure, the first World War ended on November 11, 1918.
The relief brought by Armistice Day was short-lived, however, when the religious noted on November 15, a mild form of influenza was spreading among some of the girls living at Duchesne. The RSCJ were worried but found encouragement when a statue of St. Michael arrived at Duchesne on the same day. They believed it was a sign of God’s protection. “We are full of confidence that our cause is in good hands,” the nun wrote.
The increasing cases of flu were enough for school leaders to send the “boarders” home again on November 17. Two days later, students not living at the school returned for class. The entry notes 16 girls became sick with the flu but thankfully, all survived. The Religious of the Sacred Heart were overjoyed when one girl, whose case was becoming serious, recovered after the application of “a relic of our Blessed Mother Foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat.”
House Journal: Park Place – Duchesne
October 7, 1918
“All the schools are closed on account of the terrible epidemic of influenza that is so prevalent in the east. Churches, theatres, schools and other places of public gatherings are closed in the hope of checking the spread of the disease.”
November 4, 1918
“The Day pupils returned after four weeks of enforced absence. A novena of prayer, fidelity, and penance was made by the Community that both the Community and the children would escape what seems to be a veritable plague. In order to supplement for missed classes, the day pupils are to attend Saturday sessions and sacrifice a week of Christmas holidays.”
November 11 – 19, 1918
The Armistice for the cessation of hostilities was signed by Germany leaving the Allies victorious in the great World War. (Indiscernible writing. Possibly in French.)
“A few cases of influenza in a mild form appeared among the borders. A strange coincidence occurred. A statue of St. Michael had been promised in the hope that the great Archangel would protect the Community and the children from the epidemic. The very day the flu attacked some of the children St. Michael arrived! We are full of confidence that our cause is in good hands.”
“As several cases of influenza appeared Reverend Mother thought it wise to send home for a week the boarders not yet attacked. The day pupils were dismissed at half-past two.”
“Saint Elizabeth, the patron of the house, brought back the day pupils, who are thus enabled to make up lost classes during the enforced quarantine absence. There were only sixteen cases among the boarders here, all mild cases. One which threatened to be serious was checked remarkably by the application of a relic of our Blessed Mother Foundress.”