Kari Buchinger and the Power of Catholic Schools
By: Lauren Kloser
Kari Buchinger had a specific plan. She was going to serve Catholic schools for two years through the LANCE Program, where she would earn her Masters degree while teaching the underprivileged youth of Memphis. Then she would return to New York and work in public schools.
But Kari hadn’t realized the power of Catholic schools until she was immersed in the classroom. The children drew her in: each day, they shared their difficulties, their happiness, their challenges and their faith. When she saw how her students’ eyes lit up as they talked about Christ, Kari knew there was no going back.
After she finished the LANCE Program, Kari stayed in Memphis for three more years, working in the Jubilee Catholic Schools. The years in Memphis lit a fire in Kari: as she connected with students on a daily basis and helped them overcome obstacles both inside and outside of the classroom, her passion to serve them grew. She enrolled in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program as a way to continue sharing her faith while also working to bolster the academic abilities of her students.
In the Remick Leadership Program, Kari learned from passionate people who are intensely dedicated to their schools and their mission. She was able to pick up the phone at any time to ask questions or get support, which made her realize that she wanted to continue working with people who joyously shared their faith and thoughtfully challenged their students.
Today, Kari is in her first year as principal at St. Philip Neri Catholic School in Indianapolis, a Notre Dame ACE Academy. Every day, Kari utilizes the knowledge she gained in the Remick Leadership Program. She laughs when she talks about reconnecting with her former professors, since she often reminds them how so much of what she does has come from their lessons. Every morning, as Kari gets ready for the school day, she looks at a magnet on her refrigerator. It exhorts Kari to “Lead with Zeal,” one of the Remick Leadership Program’s defining commitments calling every educator to do the endless work that needs to be done, to believe that every child can learn, and to share their loving faith with each student of their community. In this moment of reflection during the chaos of the morning, Kari’s passion is fueled anew–not just by the breakfast that will need to sustain her through the decision-making of the day, but by the reminder that she is called each day to shape the beliefs of her faith into the love that she shares with her students.
At St. Philip Neri, Kari was welcomed with open arms. Teachers were willing to do anything and everything to help their students: they tirelessly worked to refine their work, but proved willing to start over to renew their curriculum and traditions. New in her leadership role at St. Philip Neri, Kari was unsure how the students would respond to the change, but it wasn’t long before she was flooded with hugs every day as they left the school at the end of the day. Kari knows that the hours might be too long and too unappreciated, the pay might never be enough to account for the challenging work to be done, but for Kari, the heart and vision of Catholic schools makes it clear that this is where she is supposed to be–and this is where she wants to be. She works every day to recruit people committed to becoming not only their own best selves, but also to bringing out the best in others. For Kari, the fact that, on any given day, she can assist in cultivating a teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge and pray alongside that same teacher at an all-school Mass makes real the goals of college and heaven that Notre Dame ACE Academies advocates. By cultivating talent around her, she can provide her students with outstanding academics and with exemplars of faith-filled leaders.
As she was once drawn into Catholic schools, Kari strives each day to create a school where sharing faith and mission creates community among students, teachers and staff. Her day is filled with the special power of zeal, a testament to just how powerful the mission to heaven can be. With each day and each challenge, Kari works to create not just a building filled with people, but a family who supports one another, betters one another, and shares the light of the faith with one another.