Twenty-five years ago Leonor Shortman became a Spanish teacher at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kissimmee. She has taught every grade. Today, she still teaches Spanish and educates many of her former students’ children. During her tenure, she worked under five pastors and seven principals. On Sept. 22, students could not find her in the classroom, but in the church, helping direct the school choir in celebrating the school’s 25th anniversary Mass.
On August 22, 1994, Father John McCormick was the pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish and the new school in the sprawling area. He advocated for the school to offer Spanish classes. As a ‘specials’ teacher, Shortman saw every student come through her door – literally thousands in 25 years. “For me, it’s been a blessing to be part of the journey,” says Shortman. “Holy Redeemer is my home. My children came to the school here, graduated, grew up, and got married. They loved the school.” She added, “It is known for its positive attitude. We really involve the whole person.” The motto, created by former principal Maureen Kane, says it all: “Educate the mind. Invigorate the body. Expand the heart.” Shortman says this is the essence of Holy Redeemer.
Pastor, Father Jorge Torres, noted, “Catholic education here is dear to our hearts. The school has made incredible strides in the past 25 years, not only to build it, but to make it available to everyone. The faith is affirmed on a daily basis… It’s a unique community for the students and teachers – seeing them every day and, God willing, at Sunday Mass. The day-to-day connection is priceless. It moves you in a different way.” In particular, he cites the ability to journey with families in their joys and sorrows.
During the past 10 years, the school has built a gym, a science lab, and added a Student Services Department. It still serves two classes of students per grade, with the student population hovering around 400.
The day of the anniversary Mass, there was standing room only in the church. Many who helped fund the school attended. Former principals Maureen Kane and Gloria del Orbe and Principal Anthony Gutierrez, accompanied three students to bring up the gifts. Students and alumni came to pay homage and offer their gratitude for their teachers and formation. Two graduates, Nathan S. (now at Santa Fe High School in Lakeland) and Alyssa G. (now at Bishop Moore in Orlando) proclaimed the readings and the fifth grade class formed the choir alongside student musicians.
Bishop John Noonan correlated the prophet Amos, in the first reading, to Catholic Schools—both aiming to teach, form and share the love of Christ. He said, “Catholic education isn’t about learning and knowing the rules, but living them… the rules God has given us in our hearts. To know, love and serve the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, and all your body and to know and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is this very “living” of faith that Shortman says makes her want to remain until she retires.
Rose Perry, a reading, math and religion teacher since the school’s inception, retired last year. She was glad to see former students at the Mass. She said her fondest memories were when former students came back to visit. “It meant that Holy Redeemer was important to them—both in their faith and their academic achievement. Many wanted to bring their children.” Seeing the second generation of students, she said, “We must have been doing something right.” She added, “It is my parish, but also, the atmosphere there was always very loving, welcoming, and very faith-filled.” On Sept. 22, that loved filled the church.
Both Perry and Shortman were grateful. “Being able to share our faith with the kids and experience teaching the whole child… It was important to me. I really do feel blessed,” said Perry. The day concluded with a reception and campus tours.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic September 25, 2019