Retiring teacher impacted students with her knowledge and faith
May 25, 2022
Sister Patricia Hoffman has taught thousands of students throughout her career. Those students have become priests, nuns, doctors, nurses and other professionals. They have worked at NASA, attended the Air Force Academy, and more.
She won’t take all the credit for the success of her students, but she will take some.
“I’m a strict teacher, and I work the kids hard, but in the end, they appreciate it a great deal,” said Sister Pat, who is retiring this month after 50 years at Pope John XXIII Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Elgin.
“I’ve had a wide range of teaching experience, but I also feel that discipline, self-discipline and good habits of responsibility and kindness to others and things like that are very important, too,” she said. “And I helped students develop those characteristics.”
Father Steven Boes, the national executive director of Omaha’s Boys Town, credits Sister Pat with helping him to get into college. Father Boes was in eighth grade at St. Boniface School in Elgin when he attended a Math Quiz Day at Pope John XXIII, where Sister Pat was a judge. Until that point in his academic career, Father Boes had always struggled with math.
Sister Pat watched him do the complex problems on the board during that Quiz Day. She noticed that he often got the wrong answer because he had inverted one of the numbers.
“Educational experts today would easily diagnose me as having dyscalculia, which is like dyslexia with numbers,” Father Boes said. “Sister Pat just intuitively knew that something was up, and she adjusted my learning to meet my needs.”
Sister Pat helped Father Boes find mathematical techniques to spot his errors, slow down and look for inversions before turning in an assignment. Later, she tutored him in math for the ACT test, and his highest subject score on the test was in math.
“I may not have gotten into college without this intervention,” Father Boes said. “Sister Pat helped me to hate math slightly less, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
DRAWN TO RELIGIOUS LIFE, TEACHING
The third of 10 children, Sister Pat grew up in Osmond, Nebraska. When she was in third grade, Sister Pat boarded with nuns who taught in Osmond. She was immediately drawn to their way of life. She entered the School Sisters of Saint Francis immediately following her eighth-grade graduation.
Sister Pat received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a master’s degree from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. Her first teaching assignment was in a suburb of Chicago, even before she had graduated from college. She had a class of 63 first graders, which she said was common at the time. Thankfully, there was a nun who mentored her and other sisters on how to teach.
“She helped us with our planning every week,” Sister Pat said. “Every weekend, we all sat together, and she taught us how to teach. That’s how I learned. She was an excellent teacher and a good mentor. I felt very fortunate starting out that way.”
Sister Pat taught in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa before coming to Pope John XXIII in 1972. She taught math and some biology classes when she started, but she has taught math exclusively for the past several years. No matter what she covered in class, faith was part of every lesson.
‘MORE THAN JUST MATH’
“She taught so much more than just math,” said Jordan Engle, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Lincoln. “Her deep faith and trust in God inspired life lessons for her students.”
Sister Pat taught Engle math for five years and inspired him to be a math teacher. He said she was always firm but fair and demanded respect without ever having to raise her voice.
“She also kindled a love for Catholic education that made me who I am today,” Engle said. “I’ve been blessed to know Sister Pat and even more blessed to be her student. She’s still a role model for myself and so many others.”
Over the course of her career, Sister Pat has seen the students she teaches change. Those changes have made her job more challenging.
“Home life is different,” she said. “The whole technology thing has changed everything. And students are more knowledgeable, more worldly – worldly thinking. In other ways, too, you know, they’re advanced. I think it’s more difficult right now just because of what they’re exposed to and what’s become acceptable in society.”
Despite Pope John XXIII being a relatively small school, Sister Pat’s students have excelled. They are on par with students who have graduated from much larger schools in bigger cities. Some of her high school students have completed her college-level algebra, trigonometry and calculus courses for credit from Northeast Community College in Norfolk.
While her teaching career is ending, she has no immediate plans to move from Elgin. She wants to make sure everything is in order before she leaves. She is involved in several extracurricular activities at the school, from junior right-to-life to recycling to student council.
She has remained passionate about teaching throughout her career and considers her time at Pope John XXIII a privilege and a blessing.
With a nationwide teacher shortage across the country, including in Nebraska, Sister Pat has encouraging words for those thinking about becoming a teacher.
“I would tell them it’s a ministry, and it’s a wonderful ministry,” Sister Pat said. “If they feel called to it, they’ll have all the blessings that they need. I would encourage them to go into it. I’d also encourage them to seek a place in the rural areas.”