St. Anthony’s Catholic School Principal Mary Lou Hoffman started her Catholic education career as a teacher for St. Luke’s Catholic School in Stockton and was there for 16 years.
She then went on to teach another nine years at St. Mary’s School in Walnut Creek. While she loved her work as a Catholic educator and adored her students, after awhile the long commute began to take a toll.
“At first the commute was okay,” she said. “It was about an hour and fifteen minutes each way and it gave me time to think and pray but then the commute got worse. Traffic was horrendous and it just wasn’t fun anymore.”
When a position for principal of Manteca’s St. Anthony School suddenly opened up, Hoffman wasn’t entirely sure if she was ready to make the transition from teacher to principal but decided to apply. To her surprise she was offered the position which brought her great relief in regards to no longer having to commute but also brought great concern as to her new role as principal.
“I had many tears in the beginning because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hoffman said. “I remember sitting on the floor crying wondering what I had gotten myself into.”
Hoffman may have felt like she didn’t know what she was doing but she believed that God did and therefore prayed for guidance and God answered. “I just prayed really hard and God directed me.”
The answer to her prayers led Hoffman to “take the bull by the horns” so to speak and enroll in a Masters program for private school administration at the University of San Francisco. Through the program and support of her family, Hoffman gained the skills and confidence needed to be a strong leader for the teachers and students of St. Anthony’s School for the past 11 years.
While believing education in general is very beneficial, Hoffman believes that the advantage of Catholic education is the freedom there is for teachers to instill faith in their students by talking about God, allowing students to express their faith as well as praying with the children for their needs.
“In this day and age it’s really important for children have that type of foundation, a basic love of God and of their church (along with their education),” she noted.
Another advantage of Catholic education for teachers is that they are typically not required to teach things to students that are contradictory to their personal beliefs as may be the case with other teachers, in other schools.
When it comes to faith education Hoffman said, “I think what we are required to teach is just common sense and basic. We start out simple with the little ones and then go into more depth as they get older. There’s no conflict or contradiction. It’s just the doctrine in the church and it all falls in line.”
Hoffman recalls that during her elementary and high school years, getting a good Catholic education not only established a strong foundation but was affordable as most of the teachers were religious teachers verses lay teachers as is today.
“Today we have all lay teachers with B.A. degrees and Masters, which is wonderful but it makes the tuition cost for Catholic education much higher than before,” she said.
St. Anthony’s does offer a tuition assistance program and scholarships for students in order to help with the financial aspect while teachers focus on helping students grow mentally, emotionally and spiritual through their education and with Catholic values.
“I think being a catholic today you have to be strong in your faith, you have to understand your faith and you have to follow the rules of the church,” Hoffman pointed out. “I think for the younger generation that’s probably very difficult because society has changed so much over the years. Their views are different and their morals and standards are different. I’m from the old school and so I believe in discipline, structure. I believe that your faith and family should be your number one priority”
It’s these priorities of faith and family along with education that the staff hope to instill in all of their preschool through eighth grade students.
“If we can make an impression or help just one student over that hump, then we’ve accomplished a lot,” Hoffman said.
Although admitting she is old school Hoffman is definitely in touch with new school technology such as Facebook which allows her to keep up with St. Anthony’s graduates.
“Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with our graduates. They let us know how they are doing and how they are still grounded in their faith.”
Recognizing that even students who have received a catholic education veer and explore different venues at times, Hoffman has witnessed firsthand how the quality education and faith foundation students received at St. Anthony’s remains in their heart and causes them to find their way back soon enough.
“Many of our graduates now have children going here and that lets us know that we’ve done something right over the years” she said.
The value of Catholic education runs deep in Hoffman’s family as her daughter who taught at St. Anthony’s School for three years now teaches at Presentation School in Stockton and her daughter-in-law and granddaughter also hold positions in catholic schools as well.
Principal Hoffman invites parents to learn more about the school by attending Open House during Catholic School Week which is held the last Sunday of January through first week of February in addition to visiting the school website at www.sasmanteca.org or stopping by the school office any time at 323 N. Fremont Ave. in Manteca.