A teacher and principal who pushed me to do my best

By Brianna Marcelin

Assumption Regional Catholic School, Galloway

John J. Convey of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., reports that 99 percent of students who attend a Catholic high school graduate. I firmly believe this is because the students have someone to push them to reach for the stars and dig for more. Catholic school children learn how to be devoted and selfless because their school leaders encourage them to set goals for themselves academically, spiritually and personally.

Mary Ellen and Thomas Schurtz

The academic leaders who pushed me to do my best were Thomas and Mary Ellen Schurtz. I would not have had such valuable experiences if I did not have my Catholic school education.

After retiring from teaching high school, Thomas Schurtz was a literature teacher at Assumption Regional Catholic School for another 10 years before again retiring. Mr. Schurtz knew how to capture each student’s attention with his goofy personality and he pushed us to dive deeper into every novel and assignment. He taught me how to think. He was the hardest on his students, yet was still everyone’s “favorite.” His extraordinary, sometimes unbelievable, stories captivated each of us and drilled his lesson home, especially while often noting, “You’re entitled to my opinion.”

He and his wife shared many characteristics, especially their love for their Catholic school, but one identical characteristic shone through: they were warriors, in every sense of the word.

Mary Ellen Schurtz was the principal of Assumption Regional Catholic School for eight years after teaching there for 18 years. Mrs. Schurtz was the best principal I could ever imagine. Every day, her radiant smile would be the first thing students saw while walking into school. She stood with this smile even while fighting her own battle. In 2013, Mary Ellen Schurtz was diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t let anyone know how she was feeling; she never showed her pain. Her illness never stopped her from being a role model.

As I stood at her funeral in July 2017, I realized that her presence made me who I am today. Through her battle with cancer, she remained poised, calm, faithful, caring and, most importantly, present. Even through the worst, she fought and remained faithful in everything she did. Through her faithfulness and strength in Christ, she became a model to all students at our school. She was an example for all of us, especially us girls. She taught me how to be the woman I wanted to be, and her connection to Catholic school gave her the opportunity to do so.

My parents gave me the gift of a Catholic education at the age of 4 without knowing Mr. and Mrs. Schurtz would have this effect on me. Now, as an eighth grader, I know how confidently I can go to high school, presenting myself as a young woman of faith, intelligence and assuredness. Thomas and Mary Ellen Schurtz were the experience, what Catholic education is meant to be. To me they were more than that; they were my gift of a lifetime, a gift I could only receive through a Catholic education.