Queen of Peace principal takes on new challenge after three decades of dedicationSister Therese Gutting, long-time teacher and principal at Queen of Peace School in Cloquet, will be leaving this summer to move to a new post in Portland, Ore.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Sister Therese Gutting, long-time teacher and principal at Queen of Peace School in Cloquet, will be leaving this summer to move to a new post in Portland, Ore. And though she will leave some mighty big shoes to fill, she insists that Queen of Peace is far from being a “one-woman show.”
“When I look back, I’m just in awe of what has been accomplished here,” she attested. “There’s nothing that I couldn’t ask people that they weren’t right on board with. I’ve talked with parents and told them they have to make sure the school keeps on going.”
Sister Therese explained that she received the call to her new post quite unexpectedly, but added she is ready to take on the challenge.
“As a religious sister,” she explained, “we are missioned to our apostolates by the Mother General of our religious community, and it is through her discernment, as well as our vow of obedience, that we are asked to respond and go where the church and our religious community needs us.”
In Sister Therese’s case, the need is at the Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Portland, a private Catholic school under the auspices of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, of which she is a member. The school first opened in 1977. It currently has 260 students ages 2 1/2 to 14, who are taught according to the “uniquely different” educational theories developed by educator Maria Montessori.
Her role there will be to serve as co-administrator of the school, and her specific charge will be in the areas of admissions, marketing and development, technology, foundational work, and spokesperson for the school. She will also work to help integrate the various boards of the school.
The Portland school has experienced a decline in student enrollment in recent years, and the expectation is that Sister Therese will be able to use her experience at Queen of Peace to help turn things around in Portland as well.
Sister Therese first came to Queen of Peace in 1977, after earning her Masters of Education degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She spent 25 years teaching under the tutelage of top administrator and dear friend Mother Colleen Kimbro, while at the same time serving as an adjunct faculty member teaching business at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) in the evenings.
In 2001, Sister Therese was hired as interim dean at FDLTCC. The following year she became vice president of academic affairs, a post she held up until 2009 when she returned to Queen of Peace as principal.
Her return was something of a “baptism by fire,” however. Though Queen of Peace School has been a part of the community since 1912, dwindling enrollment had led to a decision to close its doors after the 2008-2009 school year. The decision was reconsidered, however, in response to feedback from parents, families and former students.
It was Sister Therese who was to lead the charge in bringing the school back to solid footing and ensure that it would remain viable for many more years to come. It was far from the only challenge that was to be faced, however. Just five days after Sister Therese took the post as principal, a group of summer workmen discovered one of the trusses in the roof of the school building had been seriously compromised by time and weather, and the school’s second floor was deemed unsuitable for habitation.
Engineers and contractors determined the roof of the school would need to be taken off and replaced, which would also involve nearly a complete renovation of the second-floor classrooms, as well as the abatement of asbestos in the ceiling tiles and the replacement of windows. The good news was that the school’s insurance company was prepared to cover the $4 million price tag that went along with the major renovations.
Through quick action – and a good deal of faith – on behalf of the administration, the parish, its families and the community at large, a plan was developed to remodel the basement of the building to accommodate classrooms while the school itself was being rebuilt overhead.
By November 2011, students and staff moved into what was basically a brand, new building. Not long afterward, Sister Therese and Queen of Peace School realized another long-time dream – the construction of a new playground, thanks to a gift from a grateful benefactor.
Along with all of this progress over the past three years under the guidance of Sister Therese, Queen of Peace has realized many other successes.
Those successes have been significant – arguably more significant than any the school has experienced in its 100-year history. The school instituted upgraded curriculum programming in areas such as Spanish, computer education, new testing programs, upgraded text books and developed a strong professional faculty and staff. It received commendation by the accrediting board at the school’s seven-year review last year, and its student population increased by some 200 percent. The school’s preschool has received its relicensing, increased its enrollment and enhanced its programming to extend its hours to include options such as all-day, every-day sessions, all-week half days, and Monday, Wednesday and Friday half-day sessions.
“It’s amazing what has happened,” said Sister Therese. “It has been a team effort between our former pastor, Father Rick Banker, and now Father Justin Fish, along with parish, parent and community involvement and dedication. I have felt that the Cloquet community has been behind us with their support. They have been so generous, whether a member of Queen of Peace or not.”
Sister Therese will depart for Portland at the beginning of August.
“Between now and then,” she said, “we are going to continue building our wonderful Queen of Peace School and making the transition as easy as possible. My desire is that Queen of Peace School continues moving forward into the future with the tremendous successes that we have experienced in the last three years.”
In August, Sister Janet Siepkerk of the Franciscan Sisterhood of the Eucharist (FSE) will become the school’s next principal. She hails from Falls Church, Va., where she has served as administrator at a school there for the past two years.
And though Sister Therese is ready to take on the mission wherever she is needed, she said Queen of Peace School will always remain foremost in her heart.
“I have so much enjoyed witnessing the growth that has happened in our school,” she reflected. “Knowing that the beautiful children we have here are deeply cared for is the greatest reward I could ever have.”