Charlie Kirsch ready to retire after 43-year parochial career|
|Charlie Kirsch has been a fixture in Catholic education in Antigo for over half-a-century.|
Kirsch spent eight years as a student at St. John Catholic School, and after graduating from Antigo High School and the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, returned home to a teaching career at the facility that has spanned 43 years.
That all comes to an end at the close of this year, when he will retire as the school’s social studies and religious education instructor.
“I’ve told them, I’m not dying, I’m not moving away. I’m retiring,” Kirsch said. “I’ll be back substitute teaching and I’ll still only live six blocks away.”
Kirsch announced his retirement at the close of the 2012-13 term, and was hoping for a “small get-together” as the date drew near.
“The next thing I knew, they had put my picture and a big notice in the newspaper,” he said.
Kirsch will be guest of honor at a Mass Sunday at 11 a.m. at St. John Catholic Church. It will be followed by an open house from noon to 4 p.m. at the Edison Club Event Center. There will be a light lunch of sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres and desserts, cash bar and entertainment provided by Northwoods Karaoke and a deejay.
“I’m hoping that it becomes a reunion of my past students,” Kirsch said. “That would be really nice, to see some of those folks again.”
Kirsch began his teaching career at St. John Catholic School within weeks of graduating from college, where he majored in physical education, in December, 1971.
“It was mid-year and there wasn’t too much open for teaching,” he said. “I sent out applications and got a call for St. John for some subbing.”
That subbing moved to full-time the next fall, after an informal application process that included a visit with then-school administrator Sister Frances Ann.
“She said they wanted to add some physical education to the school, and that I’d have to teach social studies and religion too,” Kirsch said. “You had to be a jack-of-all trades.”
Kirsch settled into the role extremely well, only having a few moments of doubt early in his career.
“I can remember walking down the stairs in the old St. John school early in the year and the sweat was just pouring off me,” he said. “I thought ‘I’m already totally beat and the year has just started. I can’t do this the rest of my life.’ That’s the only time I had a hard time and said I was going to hang it up.”
Over the years he has seen dramatic changes in the school including the replacement of the Franciscan sisters who still taught about half the classes when he arrived, with lay people; the construction of a gymnasium and then an entire new school; and the consolidation of St. John and St. Mary schools under the All Saints banner.
He also saw his role transfer from its physical education tilt toward social studies and religion.
“I always filled in wherever I had to whenever they filled out the schedule,” he said. “But I almost always taught religion.”
Early in his career, Kirsch said he considered making the transition to public schools—which generally offered better pay and benefits than their parochial counterparts—but always made the decision to remain at St. John, and then All Saints.
“After four or five years, I started feeling very comfortable here,” he said. “There is a sense of caring and a very good atmosphere among faculty, parents and students. It’s a pleasant place to work.”
The school—and church—helped him through some personal challenges as well, including the death of his wife, Mary, in 1989.
“You are part of a family,” he said. “As the years went by, I thought ‘why do I want to go somewhere else?”
After retirement, Kirsch plans to pursue several prospective job opportunities outside of the teaching field and hopes to spend more time with his three grown children, Kari, Chris and Katie, who are involved in education in Chicago, and his grandchildren.
But he will remain in Antigo, and likely a familiar face at St. John’s and All Saint’s.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
Charlie Kirsch in the library at All Saints Catholic School.
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