Teaching changed over 45 years, but two St. Bernard teachers remained steadfast
May 25, 2022
Back in 1977, Helen Peyton and Maureen Lamoureux began their teaching careers together at St. Bernard School in Omaha feeling nervous and scared.
The 22-year-olds looked out onto classrooms of about 30 students and had fielded questions from wary parents. The fresh-out-of-college teachers wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible.
“I had a mom ask me ‘Are you sure you’re old enough to be a teacher? How old are your anyway?’” Peyton recently recalled.
“I was scared to death,” she said. “I was so nervous, absolutely scared to death. But you had to fake it.”
Lamoureux, who years earlier had graduated from St. Bernard, was now working alongside some of the educators who’d taught her, including the principal who hired her: a religious sister who’d been her eighth-grade teacher.
“So that was kind of weird,” she recalled. It “was weird going from being a student to a peer.”
“And I was just scared,” Lamoureux said. “I had a stomach ache every day I came to school. I think it was March when maybe I finally realized ‘Hey, I don’t have a stomach ache this morning. I was just nervous, wanting to do my best.”
Forty-five years later – and still at St. Bernard in Omaha’s Benson neighborhood – both teachers are set to retire May 25.
They’ve come a long way – from nervous beginners to teaching veterans, who put parents at ease with their experience and aid other staff members with years of accumulated knowledge.
For the last 15 or so years, Peyton has been teaching science and math to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Lamoureux has been teaching fifth grade for about 12 years. She’s also taught third and sixth grades.
Their impact on the school and parish community has been enormous, said Emily Finley, St. Bernard’s principal.
EXAMPLES OF DEDICATION, FAITH
Both women have been honored as archdiocesan teachers of the year for their work in an inner city school.
“Mrs. Peyton is so dedicated to science and math,” Finley said.
Peyton, who’s also been honored nationally as an educator, refreshes what she teaches every year to keep the subjects interesting for her students. Thousands of students have been influenced through her teaching and example, the principal said.
Lamoureux stands out because of her devotion to her faith and her ability to impart that faith to her students, Finley said.
Every year Lamoureux helps the entire school with Stations of the Cross during Lent, Advent prayers and activities, and other annual devotions.
“She’s good at making kids know how much God loves them,” Finley said. “She’s a godly woman who inspires me and her students.”
Both teachers “listened to God’s call to be educators,” the principal said. “They’re doing what God intended, and they’re doing it with excellence.”
Teaching has changed since they began in 1977: class sizes are smaller, and classroom teachers no longer teach specialized courses, such as music. But most strikingly, advances in technology have changed the way they teach, the two said during an after-school interview together in St. Bernard’s library.
They remembered using records to help them teach music.
“What’s a record?” Lamoureux laughed.
“Yeah, exactly,” Peyton replied.
“Now those are coming back,” Lamoureux said. “If you stick around long enough, everything will come back. We’ll probably go back to the ditto machine,” she joked.
“Oh, please no,” Peyton said.
They remembered the school getting computers for the first time during the 1980s.
The change was a “big, big, big one,” Peyton said. “I remember when we got our first computers. We got two of them, I think. And we put them on carts. We had one for each floor, and basically had a day for the computer.”
“And then more often than not, it would freeze or something,” Lamoureux said, “and I had no clue how to fix it. So I’m like, ‘Yeah, sorry, kid. We’ll have to hope it’s in better shape next time it’s our turn.’”
NO OTHER PLACE FOR THEM
Both women were raised in Omaha and were blessed by their experiences of a Catholic education.
Peyton said her experience as a student at St. Pius X School in Omaha (now St. Pius/St. Leo School) influenced her decision to teach at a Catholic school.
“One of my best memories growing up was when I was at Pius, during Advent, singing ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel,’ over the PA system. … The big kids got up and sang it on the PA system, and it went throughout the whole building. It was just that strong memory.”
Now, Peyton said, she’s convinced that there was no better place for her as a teacher than at a Catholic school.
“I couldn’t imagine not teaching about God and creation and all these gifts he’s given us, to be thankful to him,” she said, “let alone all the holidays and Advent and Lent.”
Peyton, who earned her education degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, pointed to Lamoureux as a reason for why she’s stayed so long at St. Bernard.
“People like her,” Peyton said. “I’ve had so many women here who are like sisters.”
“Honestly, the best friends that I have had were friends I made at St. Bernard’s,” she said, “starting back 45 years ago. I’m still best friends with a lot of those same teachers, even though they don’t teach here anymore.
“It just felt like home. It felt right.”
Lamoureaux, who earned her education degree at Omaha’s Creighton University, said she chose to teach at a Catholic school to give back some of the gifts she’d received from the Catholic schools she attended – St. Bernard, Marian High School in Omaha and Creighton – and to share the faith that had been passed on to her.
“Religion class is still one of my favorite classes of the day,” Lamoureux said. “I just love their questions,” she said of her students. “I love how they think.”
BLESSED BY THE PARISH
St. Bernard Parish is another reason why they love their jobs, Lamoureux and Peyton said. Some families there have had two generations of students educated by the two teachers.
“I go to church on Sunday and I look at all these people at church, and I can say ‘I taught their kid,” Peyton said. “There’s all these connections, and I don’t want to leave those connections, you know? So I’ll stay at St. Bernard, but not teaching.”
Both know the last day of school will be difficult. They each said they think of their students as “my kids.”
“When I used to teach fifth grade and so on, I had them one year,” Peyton said. “But now I have them three years, and that gets even harder to let them go.”
“I really enjoyed being here all these years,” Lamoureux said. “The connections, like Helen said, the parents.”
“I just feel very, very grateful for being able to teach here,” Peyton said. “Whoever they hire, they have no idea how lucky they’re going to be, to be a part of St. Bernard.”
“This is a special place,” Lamoureux said. “Everybody is welcoming, and it’s warm, and people work together.”
Their teaching positions have yet to be filled. Finley said she knows she can never really replace the two teachers and their combined experience of 90 years.
Peyton and Lamoureux have become legends at the school. “Their names will forever be synonymous with St. Bernard,” Finley said.