Sister Martina Rockers: Still bringing teaching to life after 65 years

Sister Martina waits on a couple of Bishop Miege students in the Stag Shop. Sister Martina runs the shop each school day during the lunch periods so students can buy school-related clothing or items. The Bishop Miege nickname is “Stags,” homage to the former St. Agnes High School that preceded Bishop Miege.

Update: Sister Martina Rockers continues at Bishop Miege High School, serving in the development office, the science department and the Stag Shop spirit store.

Bishop John Baptiste Miege built the first Catholic church in the Kansas Territory he oversaw, which included what is now the state of Kansas and part of Colorado. His work ethic in serving the people of his diocese is legendary in Kansas.

It stands to reason that when the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., decided to build a high school named for Bishop Miege in 1958, it should have teachers who shared that work ethic.

Ursuline Sister Martina Rockers was teaching at Bishop Miege the day it opened. She is still teaching at the school, an uninterrupted ministry now in its 53rd year.

“The thing that impresses me about her is what a hard worker she is,” said Stan Herbic, who is retiring this year after 17 years as principal at Bishop Miege. “That work ethic is wonderful. She’s greatly admired, students really relate to her.”

Joe Passantino, president of Bishop Miege, calls Sister Martina “kind of the heart and soul of the school. Her presence is inspirational to our students and our faculty.” He’s been at Miege 24 years, first as principal, then president since 1995. “She’s amazing. Her work ethic is still something for all of us to aspire to.”

Sister Martina teaches AP biology to seven of the 750 students at the high school nestled in the Kansas City suburb of Roeland Park. She is also in charge of the Stag Shop during the lunch periods, where students can purchase school clothing and accessories, and is the adviser to the student council, which she’s done for all but one of her years at the high school. She taught 12 years before coming to Bishop Miege, making this her 65th year in the classroom.

Sister Martina is all smiles as she is awarded a Catholic Secondary Education Award in 2008 from the National Catholic Educational Association.

The Ursuline Sisters of Paola opened Bishop Miege, after moving from St. Agnes High School, which was next door. The Ursulines of Paola merged with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in October 2008, but Sister Martina didn’t miss a class at Bishop Miege.

“I enjoy the teaching here, and from the evaluations I had with the president and principal, they were supportive of the fact that I stay,” she said.

She began teaching AP biology in 1988, and it has been her only class the past three years. Through the years she’s taught biology I and II, chemistry, physics, algebra, and even religion. She was the chairperson of the science department from 1975 until this school year.

“This is very much like a family at school,” she said. “You get to know individual students, I may have taught their parents. There’s a real sense of community with parents, faculty, and students. There is my blood family, the Ursuline Sisters are a second family, and this is my third family,” she said.

She has taught the grandchildren of her early students. “I started teaching at Queen of the Holy Rosary (grade school), their children came here, and then their children came here,” she said.

Sister Martina’s excellence in the classroom has not gone unnoticed. In 2003, Sister Martina was the first recipient of the Ken-A-Vision Outstanding Science Teacher Award. (Ken-A-Vision is a manufacturer of science equipment in Kansas City, Mo.) That award is now known as the Sister Martina Excellence in Teaching Award, a $1,000 award going to a high school teacher of science, math, or computer science with more than 20 years of service. The Science Pioneers, of Kansas City, Mo., present the award each year, and this year’s recipient was Mary Coogan.

In 2006, the school courtyard at Bishop Miege was named for Sister Martina to honor her 60 years of service in teaching. That same year, the school sponsored her trip for an Ursuline pilgrimage to Italy.

In 2008, the National Catholic Educational Association named her as one of seven winners of the Catholic Secondary Education Award.